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Periventricular leukomalacia

Periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) develops when the white matter of the brain is damaged during childbirth. Since white matter controls motor function, PVL can lead to problems with movement, vision, and other issues. PVL may be caused by medical negligence during childbirth. Learn more about the causes and symptoms of PVL.

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What is periventricular leukomalacia (PVL)?

Periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) is a birth injury affecting the periventricular white matter, a type of brain tissue below the brain’s cortex. White matter contains nerve fibers (axons), which are extensions of nerve cells (neurons).

A premature baby in an incubator.White brain matter generates nerve impulses to control voluntary movement. This brain matter also contains ventricles (hollow areas) filled with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which protect the brain and spinal cord from impact and shock.

Damage to white matter in the baby's brain before, during, or shortly after birth can lead to PVL and cause spastic movements, cognitive impairment, and vision issues.

This type of brain injury usually occurs during the third trimester of pregnancy. Premature birth, low birth weight (less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces), and instances of intraventricular hemorrhage (brain bleeds) can make PVL more likely.

Causes of periventricular leukomalacia

Periventricular leukomalacia develops when white tissue in the developing brain has died or been damaged from lack of blood flow.

PVL may be linked to intraventricular hemorrhage occurring before, during, or shortly after childbirth. There are several other risk factors that can harm this area of the brain and cause periventricular leukomalacia.

Risk factors for PVL include:

  • Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy: This occurs due to limited blood flow or lack of oxygen to the brain, resulting in brain dysfunction.
  • Infection: Newborns have a high risk of neonatal infections that activate the immune system and may result in PVL.
  • Low birth weight: Premature infants, as well as children weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces, have underdeveloped, fragile brains and a higher risk of developing PVL.

Speak to one of our registered nurses if you had a difficult birth and believe your child suffered from brain damage and is showing abnormalities. Our caring team can help you determine how to get your child the treatment they deserve.

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Periventricular leukomalacia symptoms

Periventricular leukomalacia symptoms can vary depending on the degree of white-matter damage in the brain.

Children diagnosed with mild cases of PVL may not show any physical symptoms, but may show cognitive developmental delays.

Common symptoms of PVL may include:

  • Exaggerated, jerky movements
  • Knees and thighs pressed together or crossed while walking
  • Tight muscles in legs
  • Walking on tiptoes

One of the most common and apparent symptoms of moderate to severe periventricular leukomalacia is spastic diplegia, a type of cerebral palsy. This type of cerebral palsy is characterized by stiff, jerking movements in the arms and legs.

Periventricular leukomalacia symptoms and disabilities may not be apparent until the child is a few months old. As the child gets older, these physical symptoms may progress into other areas of the body due to muscle fatigue caused by the tightened and contracted muscles.

These symptoms can greatly impact a child’s ability to move freely due to the ongoing stress on their muscles, joints, and ligaments.

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Diagnosing periventricular leukomalacia

It is important to get a proper periventricular leukomalacia diagnosis, since this condition may be mistaken for other ones that cause tightened muscles.

The first step in diagnosing PVL is a physical examination to look for signs of muscle spasticity and any brain damage.

If your doctor suspects your child has PVL, they will use imaging tests such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans and cranial ultrasounds to look for brain damage.

The MRI scan will be able to determine how badly the brain was damaged. It may allow doctors to see bruising or scarring on the brain. The cranial ultrasound reflects images of the brain’s surface and ventricles, allowing doctors to find any damage.

Once the doctor has confirmed a periventricular leukomalacia diagnosis, they will be able to estimate your child's prognosis.

Periventricular leukomalacia prognosis

A periventricular leukomalacia prognosis is the long-term outcome of the condition. A PVL prognosis can vary depending on the damage to the white brain tissue and how severe the symptoms are.

A girl in a wheelchair plays with a developmental toy.It's not possible to reverse the brain damage that causes PVL, so the condition will not improve on its own over time.

However, children with mild periventricular leukomalacia can go on to lead independent lives and may experience an improved quality of life with proper treatment.

Children diagnosed with severe periventricular leukomalacia may need more long-term medical treatment and assistance to complete daily activities and manage painful symptoms.

If you believe your child suffered from a preventable birth injury caused by improper care during childbirth, contact us to learn more about your next steps.

Treatment options for periventricular leukomalacia

Because periventricular leukomalacia is caused by irreversible brain damage, there is no way to treat the physical damage of the white brain matter.

However, there are several treatment options available to manage physical, neurological, and cognitive symptoms caused by PVL. These treatment options aim to relieve pain and improve quality of life.

Treatment options to manage periventricular leukomalacia symptoms include:

  • Occupational therapy: Improves fine motor skills used to complete daily tasks such as brushing teeth, changing clothes, and bathing
  • Physical therapy: Helps to relax tightened muscles and improve overall mobility through a series of physical exercises
  • Speech therapy: Refines language and communication skills in children with speech delays

It is important to remember each case of PVL is different. Your doctor will be able to determine which treatment options are best for your child based on their individual needs.

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Taking legal action for periventricular leukomalacia

Unfortunately, some cases of periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) could have been prevented with proper care during the birthing process.

Doctors, nurses, and other types of health care providers have a duty to uphold a high standard of care in the delivery room. This includes navigating difficult birthing situations to make sure the child is delivered safely.

Medical professionals who commit medical negligence that leads to PVL should be held accountable for their actions. Many families may be able to take legal action through a birth injury lawsuit. Compensation won in a lawsuit can help families pay for the cost of care to treat their child’s condition.

If you believe your child developed periventricular leukomalacia due to medical negligence, you may be able to pursue legal justice. Learn more about your legal options and get a free case review today.

Cerebral Palsy Guide was founded upon the goal of educating families about cerebral palsy, raising awareness, and providing support for children, parents, and caregivers affected by the condition. Our easy-to-use website offers simple, straightforward information that provides families with medical and legal solutions. We are devoted to helping parents and children access the tools they need to live a life full of happiness

  1. Periventricular Leukomalacia (PVL) in Children. Cedars Sinai. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2022, from https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions---pediatrics/p/periventricular-leukomalacia-pvl-in-children.html
  2. Periventricular leukomalacia. Periventricular Leukomalacia - Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics - Golisano Children's Hospital - University of Rochester Medical Center. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2022, from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/childrens-hospital/developmental-disabilities/conditions/periventricular-leukomalacia.aspx
  3. Periventricular leukomalacia: Boston Children's Hospital. Boston Children's Hospital. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2022, from https://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions/p/periventricular-leukomalacia
  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (n.d.). Periventricular Leukomalacia: Medlineplus medical encyclopedia. MedlinePlus. Retrieved January 28, 2022, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007232.htm