Cerebral Palsy Awareness: Causes of CP

During the month of March, I told you I would be writing about information on CP in honor of Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day/Month. Due to some family issues, I was unable to keep up on my posts. I will continue my posts on awareness now 🙂

Cerebral Palsy Awareness: What Causes CP?

Most of my childhood, I thought it was oxygen deprivation during childbirth that caused my CP. In fact, when people ask now, I still tell them that. Partly out of habit; partly because it’s easier than “I don’t know”, or running the list of factors that it could have been. Somewhere along the line I was told that it might not have been that. In 10th grade I did a Biology report where I found out that if a mother’s blood type is Rh negative, and the fetus has Rh positive blood, the mother’s body can trigger an auto-immune response, actually attacking the fetus as a foreign substance in the body, which can cause brain damage leading to cerebral palsy. This is called Rh Factor Incompatibility. Interestingly, my mother has Rh negative blood, and I have Rh positive. I still can’t be sure that is what caused it, because it could have been oxygen deprivation, or it could have been a few other things on the long list of causes.

While you read, please remember that I have no medical training, and this is solely for informational purposes.

Congenital CP

‘Congenital’ refers to cases of cerebral palsy caused before or during birth. This makes up for 85 to 90 percent of cases. [cdc.gov]

Bad habits

It is still unclear exactly what percentage of CP is caused from the mother smoking, drinking, or consuming illegal drugs due to questions not being asked on paperwork or dishonesty on the mother’s part. Personally, I think these are the most preventable causes of CP. I have a good attitude about my disability, and I believe I can use it to make a difference, but I would not wish it on anybody. If you are or you know a pregnant mother who uses cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs, please, find all the information you can on the problems it can cause for the baby and scare them out of it. CP is only one of the many affects it could have on the baby. That is a choice you are making for your son or daughter.

Environmental Contaminants

“There have been a number of specific incidents where the number of children affected in certain geographical areas increased temporarily due to environmental pollution. An epidemic of CP occurred in Minamata Bay, Japan, between 1953 and 1971. This was eventually found to be related to methyl mercury in fish which had been consumed by pregnant women. The discharge of methyl mercury had come from a vinyl chloride acetaldehyde plant.” (Miller & Bachrach) [Cerebralpalsyorigins.com]

Scary, right?

I happen to live near one of the few spots on the map where the government decided to put a nuclear plant. The nuclear plant provides many jobs and a pretty stable economy in the area to this day. They did their bomb testing for a while, about 60 years ago. Since then, it has been a ‘clean-up project’. What does that mean? It means they have thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals and radioactive waste that they’re still figuring out what to do with. They are, or were at one point, held in underground containers. I also happen to live near a very large river. Over the years they have discovered that the chemicals have seeped into the ground and the river water. This river helps supply the tap water for the entire area. It is also a source of recreation. On any given summer day, you can go down to the river and find people swimming, fishing, and boating. I spent every summer of my childhood swimming in that river. According to reports, the amount of contamination is minimal. Of course, side effects can still exist.

One of the possible side effects of fetal radiation exposure? Brain damage.

The area I live in is pretty small. It’s growing fast, but it’s no Chicago. My mom has lived here her whole life. I was born and raised here until I was 13. Then I moved to California with my dad. We lived in a pretty big city that was close to more big cities. From there we moved to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Then I moved to Phoenix to spend time with my grandma. When I was 20, I moved back here. Since I moved back, I have noticed there are more people with CP in this small town than I ever noticed in any of the big cities I’ve lived in. Have you seen Erin Brockovich? This could be the sequel. I would be really interested in someone doing a study to compare the ratio of CP incidents here to that of the rest of the country.

Now that I’ve scared all of my friends and family living in the area, we’ll talk about the other prenatal causes of CP.

Malnutrition – Take good care of your health while you are pregnant. Eat right. Get lots of foods rich in Omega-3 and fatty acids. Olive oil and avocado. Don’t diet. Take your prenatal vitamins.

Multiples – Having multiples increases the chance that one of the babies will have CP. It’s a tight fit in there! But don’t let that scare you. It doesn’t mean they can’t all come out just fine.

Rh incompatibility – This is not as big of a problem as it used to be. Now, if it is determined that there is a risk, shots can be given to prevent problems.

Infection during pregnancy – Chickenpox, Rubella, Meningitis, and other diseases contracted during pregnancy can harm a baby and cause CP.

Maternal health problems/Genetics – Cerebral Palsy is not genetically inherited. But genetic factors, as well as any health issues, like thyroid problems or seizures, can play a role in causing other problems that can contribute to CP.

Incorrect use of forceps/Vacuum/Handling of newborn – Newborns’ heads are very sensitive. They are still soft and forming. You’ve seen the lawsuit commercials? This is what they are referring to.

Asphyxia/Hypoxia – (Oxygen deprivation) Usually due to prolonged labor or a wrapped or pinched umbilical cord.

Preterm/Low birth weight – Babies with a low birth weight are about twice as likely to develop CP.

Jaundice – Severe or untreated jaundice can cause CP.

Acquired CP

Acquired CP refers to CP resulting from brain damage that occurs more than 28 days after birth [cerebralpalsyorigins.com].

Infection – The same diseases that can cause CP in the womb can cause CP as an infant or young child.

Injury – Brain damage from injuries or child abuse.

Hypoxia – This could be from stroke, bleeding in the brain, or other causes of oxygen deprivation.

There are endless reasons that a child can have CP, and an exact cause is rarely pinpointed. Usually there is only speculation. While they are pretty sure that I was born with CP, it could have been Rh incompatibility, oxygen deprivation due to a prolonged labor, environmental toxins, a genetic problem, or another reason altogether that caused it. It is not entirely preventable, but by taking care of yourself and your baby during and after pregnancy, you can reduce the risk of cerebral palsy. For the children that end up with it anyway, I am living proof that it is only a hurdle, not a sentence.

Life is what you make it. I have a CP, but it does not have me.

Life is what you make it. I have a CP, but it does not have me.