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What are the causes?

Cerebral palsy is not a disorder with a single cause, like chicken pox or measles. It is a group of disorders with similar problems in control of movement, but probably with a variety of causes.

Congenital cerebral palsy, results from brain injury during intra-uterine life. It is present at birth, although it may not be detected for months. It is responsible for about 70% of children who have cerebral palsy. An additional 20 % are diagnosed with congenital cerebral palsy due to a brain injury during the birthing process. In most cases, the cause of congenital cerebral palsy is unknown.

On the other hand, in the United States, about 10 percent of children who have cerebral palsy acquire the disorder after birth. (The figures are higher in underdeveloped countries.) Acquired cerebral palsy results from brain damage in the first few months or years of life and can follow brain infections, such as bacterial meningitis or viral encephalitis, or the results of head injury -- most often from a motor vehicle accident, a fall, or child abuse.

A large number of factors, which can injure the developing brain, may produce cerebral palsy. A risk factor is not a cause; it is a variable which, when present, increases the chance of something occurring -- in this case, cerebral palsy. Just because a risk factor is present does not mean cerebral palsy WILL occur; nor does the absence of a risk factor mean that cerebral palsy will NOT occur. If a risk factor is present, it serves to alert parents and physicians to be even more observant to the infant's development.

Risk factors for cerebral palsy include the following: premature birth; low birth weight; inability of the placenta to provide the developing fetus with oxygen and nutrients; lack of growth factors during intra-uterine life; RH or A-B-O blood type incompatibility between mother and infant; infection of the mother with German measles or other viral diseases in early pregnancy; bacterial infection of the mother, fetus or infant that directly or indirectly attack the infant's central nervous system; prolonged loss of oxygen during the birthing process and severe jaundice shortly after birth.