Cerebral palsy is always caused by some type of brain damage, injury or malformation. These can occur in various ways, which means that there are several potential causes of cerebral palsy. For any child born with cerebral palsy, it may not be possible to determine the exact cause, though. One cause that can often be pinpointed is a type of abnormal development of the brain called cerebral dysgenesis that results in a brain malformation. It is characterized by incomplete development, abnormal growth, incomplete brain division, or incomplete organization of the developing brain. There are known causes of cerebral dysgenesis, but also risk factors. Avoiding these may help to prevent it.
What is Cerebral Dysgenesis?
Cerebral dysgenesis is the abnormal development of the brain that occurs while a baby is still in the womb. Unlike other causes of cerebral palsy, this does not result from a brain injury, such as asphyxia or traumatic physical injury. It is an actual malformation of the brain; in other words, the brain does not develop and grow the way it is supposed to.
There are several ways in which the brain may develop abnormally: It may not completely develop; it may develop, but then grow in a way that is abnormal; it may develop and grow, but not organize in a way that is normal; and it may grow, develop, and organize, but fail to divide into the two hemispheres seen in normal brains. Cerebral dysgenesis can be triggered at any point during the development of the fetus. Brain development begins right after conception, and the first 20 weeks of development are the most important for the brain.
Diagnosing Cerebral Dysgenesis
Depending on how severe the malformation is in a child’s brain when he or she is born, the symptoms and signs may be mild and barely detectable, moderate, or severe and obvious. If a brain malformation is suspected, doctors can use imaging scans, like MRIs, ultrasounds, and CT scans to image the brain after birth and find out if the brain is malformed. There are also now genetic and chromosome tests that can determine if a baby has been born with cerebral dysgenesis caused by a genetic mutation or a chromosomal abnormality.
Symptoms and Signs of Cerebral Dysgenesis
Another important part of diagnosing cerebral dysgenesis and evaluating children who may be suspected of having a brain malformation is to watch for symptoms and signs. These vary in type and severity depending on how severe the malformation is and where in the brain it occurred. Some of the common signs that are seen in newborns with this condition are seizures, gagging and lip smacking, failure to thrive, and a low APGAR score. This is a quick test done right after birth to assess heart rate, blood pressure, reflexes, skin color, and muscle tone. A low score may indicate a problem in the brain.
Sometimes the signs of cerebral dysgenesis are not obvious until a child has grown older. This is especially true for cases of mild or moderate malformation. A child may not be developing at a normal pace, for instance, or may experience difficulties with crawling, walking, talking, and other developmental milestones. Other possible signs include a smaller head size than what is normal, roving eye movements, poor control over certain body parts, poor motor skills, and mental deficiencies.
Cerebral Palsy and Treatment
Cerebral dysgenesis is not a common cause of cerebral palsy, but it is possible. If a malformation in the brain is detected in a child it is likely that he or she will also be diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Brain malformations and cerebral palsy cannot be cured, but they are also not progressive. These conditions will not get worse with time, so treatments can be used to manage symptoms and complications so a child can live a normal, long, and fulfilling life.
As with any child diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the treatments for a child with cerebral dysgenesis vary depending on the individual’s types of symptoms, the severity of symptoms, and the needs and limitations of that child. Physical therapy to make moving easier and less painful is common. These children may also undergo surgery to correct bone, joint, and muscle problems that restrict movement or cause spastic movements. Other types of therapy or treatment that may be used throughout a child’s life include occupational therapy, speech therapy, medications, educational interventions, physical aids, and behavioral therapy.
Causes and Risk Factors
For most children with a brain malformation, one particular cause is difficult to pinpoint. Genetics may play a role, with certain genes and gene mutations that have been linked with cerebral dysgenesis and related conditions. One of the most serious and common risk factors is infection. Particularly cytomegalovirus, rubella, herpes simplex virus, toxoplasmosis, syphilis, and the chicken pox virus, are known to be serious risk factors for brain malformations in developing fetus. A fever in the mother can trigger inflammation that may lead to damage in the fetus, as can any kind of trauma to the mother or fetus.
Preventing Cerebral Dysgenesis
Because there is no cure for cerebral dysgenesis once it occurs in a baby, it is important to avoid malformation in developing brains as much as possible. Treatments for this condition can only help a child live a more normal life and manage symptoms; it cannot reverse the damage that has already been done. Preventing cerebral dysgenesis means avoiding risk factors.
Avoiding genetic mutations is not possible at this point. Some people simply have these mutations that cause damage like brain malformation. However, staying in good health is a very important way for a pregnant woman to help prevent cerebral dysgenesis in her unborn baby. Staying up to date with doctor’s appointments allows the mother’s medical team to catch any infections and treat them before they can harm the developing brain of the fetus.
Cerebral dysgenesis is one possible, although not common, cause of cerebral palsy. If your child was born with this malformation and cerebral palsy and you believe there was a preventable cause, your doctor may be considered negligent. A missed screening for an infection or failure to diagnose and treat an infection, can lead to this damaging and lifelong condition.