Cerebral Palsy and Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic brain injuries and damage that occur during the labor and delivery process is one the numerous ways that infants can develop cerebral palsy. In fact, brain injuries are one the leading reasons that children develop cerebral palsy. Traumatic brain injuries and damage are considered a severe medical issue and treatment must begin as soon as possible for the best possible chances of helping the child.
Traumatic Brain Injuries and Brain Damage Causes
Although it’s a rare occurrence, when a traumatic brain injury occurs during the birthing process, it’s often tied back to medical negligence and medical mistakes. For example, a physician using birth-assisting tools such as forceps or a vacuum extraction tool may use too much force or use the tool improperly, causing significant damage to the infant’s head.
When these tools are used properly, they can greatly assist doctors in delivering babies in time, and before they experience oxygen deprivation, as the tools are generally used during difficult births. Yet, there have been so many cases of traumatic brain injuries from using birth-assisted tools that a number of parents have started petitions to end the use of the tools entirely. Currently, however, physicians sometimes still use these tools today for difficult deliveries.
The infant may be dropped shortly after delivery, causing brain injuries. This usually happens if the infants is pulled out too fast and the physician isn’t being extremely mindful, but these kinds of mistakes are unusual.
Brain damage can occur due to:
- Umbilical cord issues, leading to oxygen deprivation
- Placental problems
- High maternal blood pressure
- Undiagnosed and untreated maternal infections
- Jaundice (if jaundice levels are too high, kernicterus can occur, a rare form of brain damage)
- Arching the back and neck
Consequences of Traumatic Brain Injuries and Damage
Cerebral palsy is one of the results of traumatic brain damage, but using birth-assisted tools improperly can also lead to other severe medical conditions for the infant, including brachial palsy, Erb’s palsy, shoulder dystocia, and more.
Other conditions that can result due to traumatic brain damage include:
- Head deformities
- Subdural hemorrhage
- Epidural hemorrhage
- Subarachnoid hemorrhage
As the baby grow older, other complications and medical disorder may arise including cognitive issues, missed milestones, executive functioning issues, problems with behavior and communication, sensory problems, and emotional outbursts.
Traumatic Brain Injury Symptoms
Keep in mind that traumatic brain injuries and brain damage can encompass a wide range severity, from mild to serious, and the baby’s symptoms will depend on how acute the injury is.
In general, common signs and symptoms that occur in infants with traumatic brain injury and brain damage include:
- Persistent, uncontrollable crying
- Visible injuries on the scalp
- Difficulties with feeding
- Non-responsive to light and other stimuli
- Seizures, neck stiffness
- Excessive fussiness
- Unusual lethargy
- Increased blood pressure
- Slow breathing rate
- Spinal fluid may come out of the ear and/or nose
- Dilated pupils
- Loss of bladder control
- Slow pulse
Traumatic Brain Damage Diagnosis
To diagnosis traumatic brain damage, a physician will first look for the most obvious symptoms, and if they are present, a magnetic resonance imaging test (MRI) and/or a computed tomography head scan (CT) is typically performed. These imaging tests can show skulls fractures and any brain abnormalities.
A CT scan is generally the first type of test administered because it’s more readily available. They also take less time to complete and are less invasive when compared to MRI test. An MRI test, although more time-consuming and more invasive, produces a more in-depth image of the brain. Imaging tests are currently the easiest way to diagnose traumatic brain damage in infants, as they are still unable to communicate, which makes using other methods more difficult.
There are currently a number of treatment options for traumatic brain damage, and although it may not stop cerebral palsy from developing, it can give the infant a better chance of survival and an easier life as they grow older.
Treatment options include:
- Surgery to repair fractures, remove blood clots, and drain accumulated fluid
- Mechanical ventilation assistance to help reduce brain swelling and the amount of damage
- Therapy, including physical, occupational, speech, and alternative therapies
- Adaptive equipment
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a relatively new line of treatment for brain damage. It consists of an infant being placed in a hyperbaric chamber, where they inhale 100% oxygen. Although there are currently mixed results on how effective HBOT is for children with cerebral palsy, a few uncontrolled studies found that it can help increase functioning. For infants with brain damage only, some studies indicate the rate of death is reduced significantly for babies who use HBOT. However, additional studies are needed.
Since traumatic brain injuries are so complex, it’s difficult for doctors to determine the infant’s prognosis right now. Sometimes it take months, and even years, before the long-term outlook can be figured out.
In general, the prognosis will depend on how severe the brain damage is and how well the child adapts to treatment. The more the severe the injury, the longer it will take for the child to recover. Yet, if the child develops cerebral palsy, he/she will live the condition for life. The good news, however, is that cerebral palsy doesn’t worsen over time, and many children thrive if provided with the proper treatment.
If you see anything unusual with your baby before, during, or after diagnosis and treatment, do not hesitate to call your healthcare providers. If you feel the matter is an extreme emergency and your healthcare provider isn’t available, call 911.