Did you know that cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability among children? To give you a better idea, 8,000 infants are diagnosed with cerebral palsy each year in the U.S.
A movement disorder, it affects a person’s balance, posture, and ability to move. Depending on the severity, it can also make it difficult for them to communicate with others.
But wait, what causes it? Is cerebral palsy genetic? Does it run in families?
Curious to know? Because these are some of the things that we’ll be addressing in this post. Keep reading to learn more about the condition.
What Is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that affect movement. The word “cerebral” refers to “the brain” whereas “palsy” means “weakness with using muscles.”
More often than not, it’s diagnosed between three to five years of age—when the brain has fully developed.
There are several types, including dyskinetic cerebral palsy, spastic cerebral palsy, and ataxic cerebral palsy, all of which affect different body parts.
Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy
The symptoms of cerebral palsy vary from person to person. Some people may have a mild form of the disorder whereas others’ may be more severe. Over time, the symptoms may also change.
Some of the most common signs include stiff muscles, tremors, lack of balance, and exaggerated reflexes. In some cases, it can also affect an individual’s speech development.
Risk Factors for Cerebral Palsy
Certain factors can increase the chance that a child will have cerebral palsy. For instance, babies who are born preterm or at a low birth weight have a higher risk.
Infants, in general, are also at a higher risk than older children due to the fact that they’re more prone to brain-damaging events. For instance, brain infections can result in the disorder (more on this later).
Diagnosing Cerebral Palsy
Diagnosing cerebral palsy begins with a physical exam. More often than not, the doctor will also order different tests, such as EEGs, MRIs, CT scans, and ultrasounds. A blood test may also be necessary to rule out other conditions.
Once the diagnosis has been confirmed, they will likely refer you to a specialist.
Congenital CP vs Acquired CP
Congenital CP is due to brain injury that’s inflicted before or during birth. For example, it’s not unheard of for medical negligence to result in brain injury.
That’s right, cerebral palsy birth injuries are a thing.
In contrast, acquired CP is caused by brain damage that occurs more than 28 days after birth. Less common than congenital CP, it’s usually due to a head injury.
Causes for Congenital Cerebral Palsy
A number of things can lead to congenital CP. Here are some of the most common.
Certain diseases, such as rubella, can cause birth defects, which can lead to CP. For this reason, it’s highly recommended that a mother is up-to-date with her vaccinations prior to getting pregnant.
Rh incompatibility is another condition that can result in brain damage. To put it simply, it means that there’s conflict between the mother’s blood type and the fetus’.
Fortunately, however, early detection and treatment can help protect the unborn baby.
2. Exposure to Toxins
Exposure to toxic substances (through the mother) can cause brain defects, including CP. For instance, high levels of methyl mercury, a chemical that’s found in seafood, can put a fetus at higher risk.
Generally speaking, the fetal brain is most prone to toxin damage during the first two trimesters. However, damage can also happen in the third trimester.
3. Variations in Maternal Blood Pressure
High blood pressure in the mother can cause a fetal stroke. The subsequent bleeding would likely go on to cause permanent brain damage.
Low blood pressure is also problematic. It can deprive the fetal brain of the oxygen—this can result in brain injury as well.
As it is, both cases can lead to congenital cerebral palsy.
Causes for Acquired Cerebral Palsy
A small number of individuals will have acquired cerebral palsy. Here are some of the most common causes.
While it’s not common, infections can lead to cerebral palsy. For example, meningitis can cause inflammation in the brain, which can result in lifelong disabilities. Fortunately, however, it is possible to treat with antibiotics.
Viral encephalitis is another example. Similar to meningitis, it can cause the brain to swell, which can lead to permanent damage.
2. Issues with Blood Flow
Problems with blood flow can lead to stroke, which can result in acquired CP. For example, it may be due to abnormal blood vessels, blood clotting problems, or heart defects.
Sickle cell disease, which affects hemoglobin, the molecule responsible for delivering oxygen, can also lead to CP.
3. Head Injury
Traumatic head injuries (e.g. car crash) to the developing brain can lead to cerebral palsy. For this reason, it’s crucial that you use an infant safety seat—that will greatly reduce their risk of injury.
Child abuse cases are not unheard of as well.
Is Cerebral Palsy Genetic?
Cerebral palsy is not hereditary. However, certain genetic factors can prepose an individual to the disorder.
For example, genetic defects can contribute to brain malformation, which can result in the condition. In some cases, it may be due to spontaneous gene mutations.
Understanding Cerebral Palsy
Hopefully, that answers the question of “is cerebral palsy genetic?”. As you can see, there are several things that contribute to the disorder—there’s no single cause!
Do you have anything that you’d like to share about CP? Let us know in the comments section below!