Causes of Cerebral Palsy: Origins, Etiology, Aetiology, Causal Pathways
Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy
“The risk of cerebral palsy increases with decreasing gestation at delivery, especially when neonatal survivors are used as the denominator…whilst the risk is higher is early gestations, most children with cerebral palsy are born at term….Before 1980 in Western Australia only one tenth of children with cerebral palsy were born before 32 weeks of gestation; this proportion has risen to one fifth or one quarter.”

-Stanley, Blair & Alberman

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy
Most of the list of causes noted in the navigation at the left of this site are effects that influence the child before birth. Evidence suggests that 5 percent of newborns that weigh less than 3.5 pounds will develop CP. Neonate survivors born before week 33 are up to 30 times more likely to contract cerebral palsy than a baby born at term. The younger the individual, the lower their birth weight, the more vulnerable that individual is. An infant of less than 3 pounds is twice as likely to develop CP than a full term baby of more than 5 pounds. “Of all children registered with the Western Australian Cerebral Palsy Register born 1986-1992, 34.7 per cent were born before 37 weeks and 24.8 per cent were born before 33 weeks, compared with 7.5 and 1.3 per cent respectively of all neonatal survivors in the same birth cohorts.” (004:61) Extremely low birth weight infants are 100 times more likely to develop CP than a full term infant. In one large overview of 6399 very low birth weight children that survived neonatal intensive care, childen that were evaluated up to age 3, the rate contracting CP was 77 per 1000. 2.5 per 1000 is the normal rate.

There are also racial and cultural factors. At one premature birth level white children in the United States showed twice the rate of CP vs. Black infants with a rate almost three times that of a full term baby. See ‘Racial and Developing Nations’ for more information.

The increase of cerebral palsy among preterm births over the last 30 years are hypothesized to be related to both the possibility that infants with damaged brains are now surviving that would not have survived before, and that perterm individuals are far more vulnerable to the non natal environment that they must quickly grow accustomed to, to survive.

Some studies suggest that between early gestational age and lowered birth weight, there is an even greater risk of cerebral for those that are younger over those that are lighter. “Cerebral palsy risk increases with decreasing birthweight (Stanley and Watson 1992), Hagberg et al. 1993, Pharoah et al. 1997b). However, birthweight is dependent on both gestational age at delivery and the rate of intrauterine growth; therefore these two risk factors must be studied independently of each other to separate their effects. Nevertheless, because birthweight can be measured more accurately and is more widely available than gestational age, it has long been used as a surrogate for maturity.” (Stanley, Blair & Alberman: p. 32)

The highest percentage of hemorrhages occur in babies with the youngest gestational age or birth weight. Called intraventricular hemorrhages, or intracranial hemorrhage, this does not often occur in the full term infant or a baby over 4 pounds. It is the combination of both the bleeding, called periventricular leukomalacia, and created cysts in the area of the ventricles and motor region that together often cause CP, though the bleeding alone can cause cerebral palsy.

There are several kinds of cerebral palsy, and certain types are associated with premature birth. It has been suggested that diplegia may cause premature birth by impairing growth and development while an embryo. Spastic diplegia has increased over the last 30 years as premature infant care has grown more facile. “While 24.8 per cent of all children with cerebral palsy were born before 33 weeks gestation, over 40 per cent of those with spastic diplegia were born before 33 weeks, compared with 25.2 per cent with spastic hemiplegia, 15.6 per cent with quadriplegia and 4.8 per cent with other types of cerebral palsy. Therefore very preterm infants are at particular risk of specific patterns of cerebral palsy.” (Stanley, Blair & Alberman: p. 64)

One common intervention is for obsteticians to intravenously administer magnesium sulfate. Magnesium in necessary to prevent premature labor and high blood pressure – an essential ingredient for physiological and neurological health. This has had a very positive effect on low birthweight infants resulting in fewer cases of CP.


Miller, Freeman & Bachrach, Steven J. (1995) Cerebral Palsy: A Complete Guide for Caregiving. The John Hopkins University Press

Stanley, Fiona, Blair, Eve, Alberman, Eva. (2000) Cerebral Palsies: Epidemiology & Causal Pathways. Mac Keith Press

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Causes of Cerebral Palsy: Origins, Etiology, Aetiology, Causal Pathways