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Looking at the causes and costs of cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy, as readers may know, is a condition involving abnormal brain development or damage to the brain which impacts a child’s ability to control his or her muscles. The condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is estimated to occur in one out of roughly 323 children.

The causes of cerebral palsy are not fully understood. The majority of cases of cerebral palsy occur due to brain damage before or during birth, but brain damage leading to cerebral palsy can also occur later on. Often, the exact cause of cerebral palsy is not identifiable, but there are certain risk factors that can be identified, including low birth weight, premature birth, multiple births, use of assisted reproductive technology, as well as infections during pregnancy, birth complications, and jaundice. Physicians have a duty to pay attention to these risk factors.

The economic costs of cerebral palsy are significant. One study cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the medical costs associated with the condition to be 10 times higher than for children without cerebral palsy or intellectual disability. When a child has both cerebral palsy and intellectual disability, the costs are 26 times higher. The lifetime costs were estimated in 2003 to be almost $1 million.

Jaundice, the last of the list factors listed above, occurs when there is a buildup of bilirubin in a baby’s blood. When there is too much buildup, an infant’s skin and eyes may turn yellow. If untreated, jaundice can lead to kernicterus, which can lead to cerebral palsy. In some cases, severe jaundice is caused by blood type differences between the mother and child which can cause red blood cells in the baby to deteriorate too quickly. When an infant’s bilirubin levels get too high, monitoring and treatments are prescribed, including light therapy, transfusion, and intravenous immunoglobulin. Accurate monitoring of jaundice is important in order to decrease the risk of brain damage leading to cerebral palsy. In our next post, we’ll look at a recent study that holds some promise in this area.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Causes and Risk Factors of Cerebral Palsy,” Accessed Oct. 26, 2015.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Data and Statistics for Cerebral Palsy,” Accessed Oct. 26, 2015.

Mayo Clinic, “Infant jaundice: treatments and drugs,” Accessed Oct. 26, 2015. 

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