Medical Negligence

What is cerebral palsy and who does it affect?

What is cerebral palsy and who does it affect? Find out all you need to know from our specialist medical negligence legal experts.

25 March 2021

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What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is the term used to describe a group of life long conditions that affect movement, coordination and cognitive development that develops before, during or soon after birth. The brain can either be damaged or has been unable to develop as it should.

What are the main causes of cerebral palsy?

The main causes of cerebral palsy can either be before or after birth. Before birth, problems that can lead to cerebral palsy include:

  • Damage to the part of the brain called white matter which could be as a result of reduced blood or oxygen supply, this is known as PVL or Periventricular leukomalacia
  • Prematurity
  • An infection contracted by the mother during pregnancy. These infections include: Cytomegalovirus , Rubella, Chicken pox, Toxoplasmosis
  • The baby could suffer a stroke whilst in the womb which could be a result of an antenatal bleed to the brain or the blood supply to the brain is cut off
  • The baby could suffer a head injury in the womb from an accident such as a road traffic collision

After birth when the baby is up to six weeks old in the neonatal period, problems that can cause cerebral palsy include:

  • A difficult or traumatic birth which results in hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy or HIE.
  • An infection to the brain such as meningitis.
  • A head injury, choking or non-accidental injury to the child
  • A very low blood sugar
  • A stroke

How is a baby at increased risk of getting cerebral palsy?

A baby is at an increased risk of contracting cerebral palsy if:

  • They’re premature
  • They have a low birth weight
  • They’re part of a multiple birth such as a twins or triplets
  • The mother smokes, drinks alcohol or takes drugs during the pregnancy

At what age can cerebral palsy be identified?

The most common time for a baby’s brain to be affected is either while the brain is developing in the womb or during labour if the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen.

Cerebral palsy isn’t always obvious when a baby is first born. It might not become apparent until a baby doesn’t hit development milestones, for example:

  • Their first smile which should happen when they’re around six weeks old
  • Rolling over which is usually between four and six months old
  • Crawling which can happen from nine months old
  • Sitting up and holding themselves up unaided between nine and 12 months old
  • Walking, typically between six and 18 months old
  • Talking, usually between 12 and 18 months old

If any of these milestones are delayed in a baby, it could just be a delay in their development but it could also be a sign of a form of cerebral palsy.

In milder cases of cerebral palsy, signs and symptoms might not be noticed until the child is around five years old and it could be because they struggle to walk sometimes or trip up frequently because their foot doesn’t always land where it should.

Can cerebral palsy be cured?

Cerebral palsy unfortunately can’t be cured but it can be managed with the right care, therapy, aids and specialist equipment.

The types of therapy that can help include:

  • Physiotherapy
  • Occupational therapy – specific aids such as wheelchairs, walking aids and things to help with feeding, dressing and everyday activities
  • Special educational therapy
  • Help with hearing aids and specialist glasses where necessary
  • What causes of cerebral palsy would lead to a medical negligence claim?
  • The causes of cerebral palsy that would lead to a medical negligence claim include:
  • An event that might have happened during pregnancy that may not have been managed correctly such as reduced foetal movements.
  • A decision surrounding how and when your baby should be born. For example, would it have been more appropriate for you to have been induced early.
  • An event that happened during your labour that wasn’t acted upon quickly or managed appropriately such as a drop in baby’s heartrate
  • After the birth, was your baby monitored to check for low blood sugar or jaundice which could also cause cerebral palsy
  • Was your baby at high risk and needed to have that monitoring

If it’s found that your child’s cerebral palsy was caused as a result of medical negligence, as part of the legal claim process you can claim for therapy, rehabilitation, specialist aids and equipment as part of the damages. As part of claim we can also claim costs for anything the NHS can’t provide such as access to private physiotherapy, house adaptations, a mobility car and any other costs that relate to providing for your child and their additional needs. Your child should be able to reach their full potential and we can provide the help and support you need to achieve this.

Even if cerebral palsy hasn’t been discovered until your child is older, such as five, six or seven years of age, you can make a claim for medical negligence up to three years after your child’s 18th birthday. If the child doesn’t have the mental capacity to manage their own affairs and live independently, there’s no time limit on when you can make a claim.

If you would like to speak to a specialist medical negligence lawyer or one of our trained midwives, about your child’s cerebral palsy, you can call us on 0330 041 5869 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to speak to you.

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