Risk factorsBy Mayo Clinic staff
A number of factors are associated with an increased risk of cerebral palsy.
Certain infections or health problems during pregnancy can significantly increase the risk of giving birth to a baby with cerebral palsy. Infections of particular concern include:
- German measles (rubella), a viral infection that can be prevented with a vaccine
- Chickenpox (varicella), a viral infection that can be prevented with a vaccine and can emerge later in life as shingles
- Cytomegalovirus, a very common virus that causes flu-like symptoms and may lead to birth defects if a mother experiences her first active infection during pregnancy
- Toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection caused by a parasite found in soil and the feces of infected cats
- Syphilis, a sexually transmitted bacterial infection
- Exposure to toxins, such as methyl mercury
- Other conditions that may increase the risk of cerebral palsy, such as thyroid problems, mental retardation or seizures
Illnesses in a newborn baby that can greatly increase the risk of cerebral palsy include:
- Bacterial meningitis, a bacterial infection that causes inflammation in the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord
- Viral encephalitis, a viral infection that causes inflammation of the brain
- Severe or untreated jaundice, a condition that appears as a yellowing of the skin and that occurs when certain byproducts of "used" blood cells aren't filtered from the bloodstream
Other factors of pregnancy and birth
Other factors of pregnancy or birth that are associated with an increased risk of cerebral palsy include:
- Premature birth. A normal pregnancy lasts 40 weeks. Babies who are born fewer than 37 weeks into the pregnancy are at higher risk of cerebral palsy. The earlier the baby is born, the greater the risk of cerebral palsy.
- Low birth weight. Babies who weigh less than 5.5 pounds (2.5 kilograms) are at higher risk of developing cerebral palsy. This risk increases as birth weight falls.
- Breech births. Babies who have cerebral palsy are more likely to be in a feet-first position (breech presentation) at the beginning of labor rather than in a headfirst position.
- Multiple babies. The risk of cerebral palsy increases with the number of babies sharing the uterus. If one or more of the babies die, the chance that the survivors may have cerebral palsy increases.
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