Cause & diagnosis
The causes of cerebral palsy are still largely unknown. Cerebral palsy results from damage to a part of the brain but we still do not know how or why this occurs. There are a number of possible causes including infections in the first few months of pregnancy or shortly after birth, insufficient oxygen to the baby during or after birth or a trauma during pregnancy or infancy. We do know however, that in the vast majority of cases it occurs either in the uterus or shortly after birth.
There are a number of factors associated with a higher risk of a baby having cerebral palsy. Pre-term birth is a significant one, with 42% of babies with cerebral palsy born prematurely compared with 8% generally. Lower birth weight is another aspect linked to a higher incidence of cerebral palsy, with 43% of babies with cerebral palsy having a low birth weight compared with 6% of the population. Finally, multiple births are also associated with higher rates of cerebral palsy with 11% of babies with CP born as a multiple, compared with only 1.7% generally.
Please note that having one or more of these risk factors does NOT mean that a baby will born with cerebral palsy, simply that the chances are increased.
It is important to emphasise that cerebral palsy is not degenerative. This means that it will not worsen over time. Determining the type of cerebral palsy that a person has will depend on what part of the brain has been damaged, and to what extent. For more detailed information read about types of CP.
Diagnosis of cerebral palsy can often be a lengthy and complex process. It is usually when a baby or child does not meet their developmental milestones that a disability is even considered. A parent or doctor may be alerted to the possibility of cerebral palsy if the baby shows unusual postures or has delayed motor development. Consequently, this can take some time to become evident. Additionally, a routine brain scan may show up abnormalities in the brain. If this occurs, then developmental milestones tend to be more closely monitored. An unusual brain scan does not necessarily mean a CP diagnosis, but instead just indicates that it is a possibility.