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Study Highlights Role of Birth Defects in Cerebral Palsy Cases

disabled childA new study published in the September 3, 2015 installment of the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that new cases of cerebral palsy are more often than not attributable to multiple prenatal considerations and afflictions as opposed to other potential causes many often suspect to be responsible.

The authors of the study undertook to assess the underlying causes of cerebral palsy in single-birth babies born at or later than 35 weeks of gestation, the category of patients accounting for nearly 65% of all newborns diagnosed with the condition.

Study questions root causes of cerebral palsy

According to these new findings made by team of researchers from the National Institutes of Health and the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., upwards of 80 percent of all cerebral palsy diagnoses could be traced back to significant prenatal factors, with less than 10 percent of such cases directly attributable to asphyxia during labor and delivery.

The authors argue that birth defects play a much larger role in cerebral palsy than birth injuries or other similar considerations.

Key prenatal factors pinpointed

Specifically contributing to cerebral palsy in young children, according to the study, are several birth defects and other prenatal conditions including low gestational age at birth, thrombotic states, genetic factors, placental conditions and malformations and marked fetal growth restriction. The authors urge the initiation of more comprehensive clinical investigations and research into genomics, genetics, developmental neuroscience and teratology as a means to advance the medical community’s understanding of cerebral palsy and how to address it.

Role of birth injuries in cerebral palsy diagnoses

Though recent research may contend that the lion’s share of cerebral palsy cases stem from birth defects and other prenatal factors, that is not to say that alarming numbers of infants each year suffer substantial, often avoidable harm as a result of labor and delivery negligence leading to developmental concerns of this type.

Incidents of negligence that result in birth trauma may include:

  • Failure to identify deteriorations in fetal condition

  • Failure to conduct appropriate fetal monitoring

  • Improper administration of induction drugs such as Pitocin

  • Poor handling of shoulder dystocia

  • Delayed identification of cord entanglement, placental abruption or infections

  • Failure to timely order Caesarian delivery, when needed

The importance of this recent research regarding common causes of cerebral palsy in young children must not be overlooked, as it may ultimately aid in the early identification and perhaps even prevention of the condition in a large number of patients.

However, it is unwise to disregard the fact that each and every year, thousands of babies and their families are confronted with the devastating diagnosis of cerebral palsy due to physician negligence and fetal injury during labor and delivery. Understanding the true cause of all developmental delays of this nature will help improve standards of physician care, but also assist in the pursuit of justice by families harmed by doctors and other healthcare professionals who fail to meet the accepted standards of care.

  1. Doctors Lounge, Birth Asphyxia Tied to Fewer Than 10% of Cerebral Palsy Cases,

  2. Medpage Today, Greatest Risks for Cerebral Palsy Occur Prior to Birth,

  3. Mayo Clinic, Cerebral Palsy,

  4. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, NINDS Cerebral Palsy Information Page,