According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cerebral palsy (or CP) is the most common childhood movement disorder in the United States. In CP, brain damage makes it difficult for someone to control their muscles. Like any form of brain damage, the condition is lifelong, but children with CP can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.
Brain-based disabilities like CP are complex, nuanced conditions that are frequently misunderstood. Learn the basics about cerebral palsy and when to consult a cerebral palsy attorney in Illinois.
Causes of Cerebral Palsy
While the precise cause of CP is unknown, the condition has been linked to damage or unusual development in the brain. The CDC reports that while children can develop CP within the first few years of their lives, most cases are congenital and occur before or during birth.
There is growing evidence that CP is related to genetics. Research published in 2015 found that up to 31% of children with CP had genetic variations relevant to the condition.
An otherwise typically-developing fetus can experience brain damage before birth that causes CP. Brain damage can result from pregnancy or birth complications resulting in oxygen deprivation, tight knots in the umbilical cord, or physical trauma to the fetus in the womb.
Brain damage may also result from medical negligence during the birthing process. For instance, improper use of forceps or vacuum extraction can result in a head injury, leading to a brain bleed and subsequent CP.
llness or Infection During Pregnancy
When you contract an illness or infection, your body creates a protein called a cytokine to fight off the virus or bacteria. However, during pregnancy, the cytokines are also transmitted to the baby.
If a medical professional fails to take precautions to prevent the transmission of illness or infection or fails to provide appropriate treatment for an ailment, the cytokines can cause inflammation of the baby’s still-developing brain, resulting in fetal brain damage and CP.
Preexisting Risk Factors
Some circumstances raise the risk of CP, although they don’t guarantee it. Babies born prematurely or with a low birth weight, for instance, have a greater chance of having CP than full-term babies with a healthy birth weight. Similarly, twins and triplets are more likely to have CP, with part of the risk being due to the increased likelihood of preterm birth and low birth weight.
In some cases, the mother may have medical conditions that make CP more likely. For example, someone with an intellectual disability is more likely to have a child with CP.
Does Asphyxia Cause Cerebral Palsy?
While there is a widespread belief that lack of oxygen during the birth process can lead to CP, medical evidence shows that this is far less common than previously believed. 2021 research linked fetal oxygen deprivation to between 10% and 20% of CP cases. That means that more CP cases result from genetics than oxygen deprivation.
However, that doesn’t mean a lack of oxygen has no effect on the baby. Babies who suffer oxygen deprivation in utero may experience developmental delays and intellectual disability later in life, even if they don’t develop CP. If your child was deprived of oxygen during birth and is now showing signs of a disability, consider seeking legal advice from a medical malpractice lawyer.
When is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?
CP cannot yet be diagnosed before or immediately after birth. The condition is usually diagnosed once your child begins showing definitive symptoms, which can vary depending on how severe their CP is.
Some children may experience poor muscle control, speech delays, and movement-related developmental delays by the time they’re nine months old, while others may seem slightly wobbly and not receive their diagnosis until they’re two or three years old.
If you suspect your child’s CP resulted from a birth injury or medical negligence, you may wonder how long you have to file a claim against the medical facility that caused the injury.
Illinois has a two-year statute of limitations for filing a medical malpractice case, but the time limit only takes effect once you find out about the resulting injury. If your child was diagnosed when they were three years old, you would still have two years to file a cerebral palsy case.
Treatment for Cerebral Palsy
While specific treatments for CP depend on your child’s exact needs, many children with the condition benefit from broader categories of treatment, like rehabilitative therapies. Talk to your pediatrician and your child’s care team to determine what services your child may benefit from.
Your child may be able to access treatments through publicly accessible services. For example, children under three years old are eligible for Illinois’ Early Intervention program, and children enrolled in public school may be able to access services through their school’s special education program.
Physical therapy can improve your child’s range of movement and control over their body. The physical therapist helps them stretch their limbs, strengthen their muscles, and improve their coordination.
Kids with CP can have trouble speaking clearly due to trouble controlling the muscles used in speech. Speech therapy can teach your child strategies to develop better clarity of speech.
As kids grow older, they learn how to do certain skills, like using utensils or brushing their teeth. For a child with CP, these tasks can be much more difficult. Occupational therapy can help your child learn how to perform daily living activities and adaptive strategies that help them carry out these tasks.
Muscle tension or weakness can cause children with CP to develop an awkward gait or posture or trouble straightening their limbs. Braces and other orthotic devices can correct these issues to reduce the risk of skeletal or joint pain as your child grows.
If your child has difficulty moving their limbs or experiences pain when doing so (as is common in spastic CP), their doctor may suggest medications to help relax their muscles, which will make movement easier. Medications may also be used to treat co-occurring conditions like epilepsy.
Kids who struggle to balance or control their limbs may benefit from mobility aids to help them move more independently. Some children may be able to walk around with the support of a walker or other assistive device, while others benefit from using a wheelchair.
Surgery may be used to treat severe CP. Some procedures reduce stiffness and increase mobility in the muscles and tendons, while other procedures are focused on your child’s skeleton to minimize the risk of dislocations.
It’s also possible that doctors recommend your child undergo a selective dorsal rhizotomy, where they sever some of the nerves in your child’s spine, so their muscles become less rigid.
Contact Nessler & Associates for a Free Consultation to Discuss Your Claim
Affording treatment for your child’s CP can be a difficult task. If you’re unsure how you’ll pay for your child’s treatment, talk to your child’s pediatrician and CP support groups to find out about any financial support you can use.
Parents who suspect their child’s CP is the result of medical malpractice or a birth injury can also consult with a cerebral palsy lawyer or birth injury lawyer at Nessler & Associates to see if they can recover compensation that will cover their child’s medical bills.
At Nessler & Associates, our attorneys have decades of experience handling a wide variety of personal injury and medical malpractice cases, including birth injuries and CP cases in Illinois, Texas, Colorado, and Florida.
Our law firm works on a contingency fee arrangement: we don’t collect any payment from you unless we settle or win your case. Call us at (800) 727-8010 or fill out our online form to schedule a free consultation.