Cerebral Palsy - Causes

Authored by Dr Colin Tidy, 04 May 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr Anjum Gandhi, 04 May 2017

For more than half of all people with cerebral palsy, the cause occurs between 24 weeks of pregnancy and the birth. This is the period when there is a great deal of brain development. The brain is therefore particularly sensitive to any damage during this period.

For many people with cerebral palsy, the cause of the damage to the brain is not known. Genetic factors may play a part. Genetic means that the condition is passed on through families through special codes inside cells called genes.

The underlying cause of cerebral palsy does not get worse (progress). However, the effect on the body does often progress so that the symptoms gradually become worse.

Many other factors are known to increase the risk of developing cerebral palsy. These include:

Factors during pregnancy (antenatal)

Factors around the time of birth (perinatal)

  • Severe infection in the baby or the mother.
  • Damage to the baby's brain around the time of the birth.

Factors after birth (postnatal)

  • Severe infection - for example, sepsis or meningitis.
  • Severe jaundice in a newborn baby.
  • Bleeding into the brain (intracranial haemorrhage).
  • Injury (trauma).

It was thought that problems with labour and delivery were the main cause of cerebral palsy. However, this is now known to be incorrect. It is thought that less than 1 case in 10 is due to problems around the birth of a baby. For example, severe prolonged lack of oxygen during birth may be a cause in a small number of cases.

Further reading and references

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