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Cerebral Palsy in Infants

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cerebral palsy occurs in 1 out of every 303 children.  Approximately 10,000 babies per year will develop cerebral palsy in the United States, and it is ten times more common in premature infants.  Additionally, about 2 to 3 children in 1,000 are affected.

There are several risk factors that make infants more likely to develop cerebral palsy.  The most common risk factor is prematurity.  Premature babies, or those who are born before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy, are far more likely to develop cerebral palsy than babies who are full-term.  Another risk factor is infections during the mother’s pregnancy that can cause brain damage to their baby.  Some infections include cytomegalovirus, rubella and herpes.  Insufficient oxygen reaching the fetus can also cause the baby to develop cerebral palsy, as well as asphyxia (or lack of oxygen) during labor and delivery.  Severe jaundice that is left untreated can kill brain cells and, as a result, can cause cerebral palsy.  More than 50 percent of newborns develop jaundice, a condition where bilirubin, a substance found in bile, builds up faster in their livers than their bodies can break it down.

Because the symptoms of cerebral palsy may not be noticeable until the child is older, cerebral palsy among newborns may go undetected for several years.  However, there are some tell-tale signs of cerebral palsy among infants.  A child more than 2 months old who has difficulty controlling his or her head when carried and who has stiff legs when picked up may indicate the child suffers from cerebral palsy.  Further indications include crawling with one hand and leg and dragging the opposite hand and leg at around 10 months and being unable to crawl or stand without support by 1 year.

The effects of cerebral palsy once were extremely grim.  Before the mid-twentieth century, few children who suffered from cerebral palsy survived to adulthood.  Due to current research, medical care and rehabilitation, most children with cerebral palsy live to adulthood.  These children, however, do face health challenges which they develop later in life.  For instance, the majority of people who suffer from cerebral palsy will experience premature aging as a result of the extra strain put on their bodies from their condition.  They also often suffer from pain in the hips, back, knees and ankles.

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