Cerebral Palsy Causes

Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the developing brain before, during, or shortly after birth. There are multiple types of brain damage that can lead to several different forms of cerebral palsy. Learn more about cerebral palsy by downloading our free guide.


About 70% of cases of cerebral palsy results from a birth injury. Was your child one of them?

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What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is usually caused by injury to the developing brain before, during, or shortly after childbirth.

Damage to different parts of the brain can result in different types of cerebral palsy. Brain damage can cause problems with motor control, coordination, and balance. The level of disability depends on the severity of physical and neurological symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 85-90% of all cerebral palsy cases are congenital related to brain damage that happened before or during birth.

Determining the Cause of Your Child’s Cerebral Palsy

It may take anywhere from several months to several years to diagnose a child with cerebral palsy.

The CDC recommends that children should be screened for developmental delays at 9, 18, 24, and 30 months. You should contact your pediatrician if you find your child is missing any developmental milestones so they can determine the exact cause.

Doctors will use computer tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to find damaged areas of the brain and signs of cerebral palsy. These imaging tests can help doctors determine the causes of cerebral palsy.

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Kristin Proctor, RN

Registered Nurse for 20+ Years

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Causes by Location of Brain Damage

Children can experience different types of cerebral palsy depending on the location of brain damage.

The areas of the brain that control motor skills are the motor cortex, cerebellum, basal ganglia, and pyramidal tracts. These areas relay impulses from the brain to the nerves and muscles to control movement. Damage to these parts of the brain can result in movement impairments and intellectual disabilities.

Spastic Cerebral Palsy

Spastic cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the motor cortex and pyramidal tracts. The motor cortex controls voluntary movement, and the pyramidal tracts relay brain signals to the muscles. Damage to these parts of the brain can cause spasticity and stiff muscle tone.

Athetoid/Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy

Athetoid (also known as dyskinetic) cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the cerebellum and/or basal ganglia. This can cause abnormalities with balance, involuntary movement, drooling, and fluctuating muscle tone.

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Ataxic cerebral palsy is characterized by damage to the cerebellum. Children with ataxic cerebral palsy have difficulty with coordination, fine motor skills, depth perception, and speech. Ataxic cerebral palsy can also cause shakiness or tremors.

Mixed Cerebral Palsy

Children with mixed cerebral palsy experience symptoms of more than one type of the condition. Damage to more than one area of the brain can cause mixed cerebral palsy.

Cerebral Palsy Caused by Medical Negligence

Unfortunately, many cases of cerebral palsy are caused by careless errors by healthcare professionals during childbirth. Cerebral palsy caused by medical negligence is often preventable.

Forms of medical negligence that can lead to cerebral palsy include:

  • Failure to detect or properly treat infections
  • Failure to detect fetal distress such as lack of oxygen
  • Failure to perform a timely C-section
  • Improper use of vacuum extractors and forceps

If you believe your child may have cerebral palsy caused by medical negligence, you may be eligible to pursue financial compensation. Get a free case review today to learn more about taking legal action.

kristin proctor registered nurse

Kristin Proctor, RN

Registered Nurse for 20+ Years

kristin proctor registered nurse

Talk to a Nurse Now

Call or chat with a caring, experienced nurse right now — we’re standing by to get you help and answers.

Cerebral Palsy Causes FAQs

What is the main cause of cerebral palsy?

The main cause of cerebral palsy is brain injury caused by lack of oxygen to the brain before, during, or shortly after childbirth.

Brain damage caused by lack of oxygen (hypoxia) can result in an array of symptoms such as issues with fine motor skills, movement, coordination, muscle tone, and developmental delays.

Does cerebral palsy get worse?

Cerebral palsy is a non-progressive disorder, meaning it does not improve or worsen over time. Although the condition itself does not change over time, the severity of symptoms of cerebral palsy can change with proper treatment.

What causes cerebral palsy during pregnancy?

Maternal infections can cause cerebral palsy during pregnancy. Viruses such as German measles and cytomegalovirus can cause major issues with fetal brain inflammation, resulting in cerebral palsy.

Can cerebral palsy be genetic?

Although cerebral palsy itself is not genetic, there are studies that show there are several genetic mutations that may lead to the development of cerebral palsy. These genetic mutations can cause issues with early brain development.

The Centre for Applied Genomics at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children found that at least one in 10 cases of cerebral palsy likely has an underlying genetic cause.

Birth Injury Support Team
kristin proctor registered nurseReviewed by:Kristin Proctor, RN

Registered Nurse (RN)

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kristin Proctor began her nursing career as a U.S. Army Nurse and has been a Registered Nurse (RN) more than 20 years. She has specialized experience in labor and delivery, as well as prenatal, antepartum, and postpartum care. Kristin uses this experience to educate and support families affected by birth injuries.

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

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