Causes of cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy is caused by either a bleed in the brain (haemorrhage) or lack of oxygen to the brain (anoxia)

Damage to the brain can occur at any point from early in the pregnancy, to months after a child is born. Although cerebral palsy is caused by a bleed to the brain or a lack of oxygen it is not a simple link. There are many factors that can cause a bleed to the brain or a lack of oxygen to the brain. Often it is not one thing but multiple factors that combine together and create the specific circumstances that then lead to a child having cerebral palsy.

Sometimes the cause of cerebral palsy remains unknown. It is not an inherited condition (although it may be influenced by genetics) and cannot be screened for in pregnancy.

As more is learnt about cerebral palsy we realise it is probably more accurate to talk about risk factors than causes of cerebral palsy.

Risk factors include

During pregnancy:

  • Infections such as rubella, chicken pox, herpes, cytomegalovirus or toxoplasmosis
  • Preterm birth (less than 37 weeks gestation) but especially before 28 weeks when the brain is more vulnerable to lower levels of oxygen and can bleed more easily. Although most children born early (preterm) do not develop cerebral palsy, it is the highest risk factor. Preterm birth is not in itself the cause, but it can be the sequence or combination of events that leads to a preterm birth; or your baby being unwell in the time after they are born
  • Substance abuse
  • Trauma to the baby during pregnancy
  • The mother’s age being either under 20 or over 40 years
  • Traumatic birth
  • Twins or multiple births

After birth:

  • Baby of low birth weight (less than 2.5 pounds)
  • Severe jaundice in a newborn baby
  • Infections affecting the baby in the period just after birth, such as meningitis or encephalitis
  • Trauma in a child before the age of two e.g. head injury, stroke, near cot death or almost drowning

A combination of the above factors (such as a child with low birth weight getting an infection) can further increase the risk of cerebral palsy.

If you or your child fall into one or more of these categories above it does not mean that they have cerebral palsy. If you have concerns however please speak to your Health Visitor or GP or read more about our early intervention service, Better Start, Better Future and how you can access our services.

How we have helped in Wales

110

Family support appointments took place in 2018-19

286

Children from across Wales have been treated during 2018-19

1,682

The number of sessions of specialist therapy we delivered in 2018-19

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Aoife's Story

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When we completed our first baby block of 6 weeks of therapy at Cerebral Palsy Cymru’s therapy centre it was a life-changer. We are truly grateful to have found such help and guidance amongst the darkness, we can now look forward to the future, thanks to Cerebral Palsy Cymru.

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Pam Perry

I started to Bake for Bobath in 2014 as a fun way of saying thank you to Bobath for the amazing therapy they have given my granddaughter.

Held at home, a small gathering of friends with plenty of cake and coffee plus donations, £97.00, not bad I thought. Still held at home it is an annual event on m…

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The early intervention programme, has been such a comfort to us as we were doing something positive from pretty much day one for Sienna. The support and comfort that Cerebral Palsy Cymru provides means that the therapy doesn’t just stop with the child who receives it, the whole family benefits.

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Fred Soper

Being a volunteer for Cerebral Palsy Cymru means I can give something back to my community. I was a customer at Crwys road and liked the atmosphere that the manager created. The volunteers are happy and the manager is kind-hearted and good with everyone so when I got the opportunity to volunteer my …

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