Acquired Causes for Cerebral Palsy

Approximately 10 to 20 percent of children with cerebral palsy acquire the condition after birth—typically from brain damage sustained in the first few months or years of life. In such cases, the disorder may result from brain infections like bacterial meningitis or viral encephalitis, or from head trauma sustained from an accident, fall, or inflicted injuries (e.g., shaken baby syndrome).

Congenital Causes for Cerebral Palsy

The cause of congenital CP—the type that is present at birth—often is unknown and many cases go undetected for months. Certain events during pregnancy, labor, and delivery can damage motor centers in the developing brain and cause cerebral palsy. However, birth complications account for only about 3–13 percent of congenital CP cases.

Infections during pregnancy, such as German measles (rubella), can damage the fetus's developing nervous system. Other potentially damaging infections include cytomegalovirus and toxoplasmosis.

Severe, untreated jaundice (hyperbilirubinemia) can damage brain cells in newborns and infants.

Deprivation of oxygen to the brain (asphyxia) or head trauma sustained during labor and/or delivery can cause CP. Severe asphyxia for a lengthy period can produce brain damage called hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, which causes many infant deaths. Birth asphyxia is associated with spastic quadriplegia.

Brain hemorrhage, or bleeding, can occur in the fetus during pregnancy or in newborns around the time of birth, damaging fetal brain tissue and causing neurological problems, including congenital CP. These hemorrhages are a type of stroke that may be caused by broken, abnormal, or clogged blood vessels in or leading to the brain, or by respiratory distress, a common breathing disorder in premature infants.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 Jan 2000

Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015