Cerebral Palsy and Traumatic Brain Injury
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Traumatic brain injuries that occur during the labor and delivery process is one of the ways that infants can develop cerebral palsy. In fact, brain injuries are one of the leading reasons that children develop cerebral palsy. Traumatic brain injuries are considered a severe medical issue and treatment must be initiated quickly for the best possible outcome.
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 linked 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 before they experience oxygen deprivation. These tools are generally used during difficult births.
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. This kind of mistake is unusual and very rare.
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 or high bilirubin (if bilirubin levels are too high, kernicterus can occur, a rare form of brain damage)
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 grows older, other complications may be more apparent 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 of severity, from mild to serious. The baby’s symptoms will depend on the severity of the injury.
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
- 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
- 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, head ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging test (MRI) and/or a computed tomography head scan (CT) is typically performed. These imaging tests evaluate for skull fractures and brain abnormalities.
A head ultrasound 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 or CT scan. MRI, although more time-consuming and more invasive, produces a more in-depth image of the brain.
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 fewer complications 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
Since traumatic brain injuries are so complex, it’s difficult for doctors to determine the infant’s prognosis. Sometimes it takes months, and even years, before the long-term outlook can be established.
In general, the prognosis will depend on how severe the brain damage is and how well the child responds to treatment. If the child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, he/she will live with 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.