When parents head to the hospital for prenatal care and delivery, the last thing that occurs to them is the probability that a highly skilled team of medical experts may inadvertently contribute to a lifelong chronic condition that their child will endure. Medical teams are known to parents, and a personal physician who has cared for the family will be present during the delivery, which adds an important level of emotional reassurance and security.
Independent research studies have reported a link between physical injuries which occur during labor and delivery, and the condition of Cerebral Palsy – a degenerative muscular condition that impacts children and adults. Cerebral Palsy from medical mistakes happen more often than parents realize, and what is tragic is that it can be years before the symptoms manifest themselves or can be accurately diagnosed by physicians. We share what you need to know about the condition and risk factors during birth and delivery, so that you can protect your family.
The Health of the Mother and Risk Factors for CP
Birth injuries are known to be one cause of Cerebral Palsy (CP) in children, but the disease can also be acquired after birth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that one in every 323 children in the United States are impacted by congenital or circumstantially acquired Cerebral Palsy, but the exact triggers for the disease are still not completely understood by the medical community. Research has, however, discussed prominent risk factors that parents should be aware of.
Mothers who have preexisting conditions during pregnancy, including bacterial meningitis, viral encephalitis, arboviruses, or insect borne diseases are at risk. Infants born to women who undergo fertility treatments are up to four times more at risk for CP, as are twins and infants that have a birth weight of less than 5.5 lbs, or babies who are born prematurely before the second trimester.
Mothers who develop one of the following viruses during pregnancy also have a statistically correlated increased risk of babies with Cerebral Palsy. This demonstrates, in part, why routine vaccinations are an important personal health choice that can protect against illness or birth complications.
The following infections or conditions increase CP risk, per clinical studies:
- Rubella (German measles)
- Varicella (Chicken Pox)
- Thyroid malfunction (hyperthyroid or hypothyroid condition)
- Repeated exposure to toxic household or industrial chemicals and substances
Birth injury is a leading cause and trigger of Cerebral Palsy during delivery, and several scenarios where birth injury occurs can be a direct result of negligence by the medical care team and subject to a malpractice suit for personal injury.
Infants that are born after a lengthy delivery where oxygen may be deprived are at increased risk of developing CP. Other delivery injuries include vacuum extraction, improper forceps use, or forceful removal of the infant from the birth canal. If an infant is dropped after birth, he or she is also at a higher risk of developing Cerebral Palsy.
The Symptoms and Outlook for Cerebral Palsy Patients
The average life expectancy of an individual with Cerebral Palsy is from 30 to 70 years, depending on the severity and types of symptoms, and areas of the body impacted (which vary on a case by case basis).
Children who develop Cerebral Palsy will, over time, experience a variety of symptoms that are common with the condition. However, researchers are not able to predict or define risk factors for each unique condition, as symptoms appear to manifest randomly for children and adults, and multiple symptoms can be a precursor to more serious impairments or difficulties.
Some known symptoms and impairments associated with Cerebral Palsy include:
- Decreased ability to achieve or sustain muscle tone or tension. This symptom is known as hypotonia. The opposite symptom, which involves stiff or too rigid muscle flexing where muscles are unable to relax is also common and is called hypertonia.
- Dystonia is a rapid, sometimes daily fluctuation between hypotonia and hypertonia, where the muscles vary between too rigid (and painful) to a flaccid or floppy state. Dystonia can also be isolated to one area of the body, such as the torso or the legs
- Painful muscle spasms that are involuntary and uncontrolled. Clonus is frequently experienced in the ankle or foot, or the wrist and hands.
- Permanently or long-term fixed joints, that function much as a fused bone would, allowing the individual little to no flexing ability.
- Shortened or distended neck height, depending on the individual’s condition.
Cerebral Palsy also has a significant impact on oral and dietary health, speech, facial expressions, and the ability to properly digest food and eliminate stool and urine. Because muscles are impaired, the following conditions are a common impairment for individuals diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy:
- Difficulty chewing and closing the mouth due to loss of muscle control in the jaw, tongue, and neck.
- Difficulty inhaling and exhaling due to impairment of the diaphragm and other abdominal muscles and those around the rib cage and lungs.
- Difficulty sustaining a posture that is conducive to breathing well, and eating without risk of choking. Tongue control is also a risk for accidental choking and adequate control of saliva.
- Difficulty articulating words and vocalizing (verbal apraxia) due to impaired muscle control around the vocal cords. Oral apraxia is the inability to move lips, lick them for moisture, or position lips appropriately for speech.
Many – if not most – children who are diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy spend their lives in a wheelchair, and are unable to perform the activities of daily living without assistance. Many start with the use of an assistive mobility device like leg braces and crutches, but as the condition tends to become more pronounced with age, independent mobility becomes more difficult.
What Parents Should Do If Malpractice Is Suspected
If parents are aware of a situation within the delivery room or decisions that were made by the medical care team, which may have put their infant at increased risk of developing Cerebral Palsy, consulting with a medical malpractice and personal injury lawyer is recommended. Thorough documentation, including clinical notes, observations, and reports are required to legally investigate if medical negligence was a contributing factor.
Families should not wait, however, to consult with a legal professional. In the event of a successful malpractice suit, a settlement or award by the court can assist with short and long term medical costs for the child.