Cerebral Palsy Risk Increases With Severity of Maternal Injury: Study

The closer to delivery the injury occurred, the higher the cerebral palsy risk, researchers found

When a pregnant woman suffers an accidental injury, such as a slip and fall, motor vehicle crash or medical mistake, the unborn child faces an increased risk of developing cerebral palsy (CP), according to the findings of a new study, which also suggests the risk increases based on the severity of the accident.

In a report published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) on November 28, Canadian researchers found women who suffered an unintentional injury were more like to give birth to a child later diagnosed with cerebral palsy, which is a neurological disorder that is often attributed to brain damage suffered before, during or shortly after birth.

If the child’s brain is deprived of oxygen around the time of birth, it can result in irreversible damage that leaves the child with developmental problems, loss of motor functions and other life-long injuries and disabilities. This new study indicates there is a direct correlation between the severity of the maternal injury and the odds of a cerebral palsy diagnosis.

Causes of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect the child’s ability to move and coordinate muscles. There is no cure for the brain damage once it occurs, leaving the child with a life-long disability, often resulting in the need for a wheelchair and substantial medical expenses throughout the child’s lifetime.

One of the most common causes of cerebral palsy are complications during pregnancy and delivery, which result in brain birth injuries. In situations where the brain damage was caused by a preventable medical mistake, families have been awarded millions in damages through medical malpractice lawsuits. However, there are also situations where the conditions is diagnosed in the absence of an error or complications during delivery.

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In this new study, Canadian researchers reviewed over 2.1 million live birth records in Ontario, Canada between April 2002 and March 2017, identifying 81,281 children exposed in utero to maternal injury. Researchers then performed a follow up analysis to determine the percentage of these children later diagnosed with cerebral palsy either at birth, or in the years to follow.

According to the findings, of the over 81,000 children exposed to maternal injury during the pregnancy, 5,317 were diagnosed with CP. However, researchers noted the difference in CP rates among mothers with accidental injury versus mothers without maternal injury were significantly different.

The study found children born to mothers with accidental injury during pregnancy faced a nearly 48% increased risk of developing CP. The researchers found 4.36 diagnoses of CP per 10,000 child-years among those who suffered maternal injuries. That compares to only 2.93 per 10,000 child-years in the unexposed groups.

The research further identified the timing and severity of the mother’s accidental injury increased the risk of the child’s CP diagnosis. The study found children of mothers who required hospitalization for the accidental injury within one week of their delivery were associated with more than a double risk of the child developing cerebral palsy.

Women who suffered severe injuries requiring delivery of the child were at the highest risk of cerebral palsy in offspring, assigned an adjusted hazard ratio of 3.40, 95% CI 1.93-6.00.

Researchers urged the medical community to carefully monitor expecting mothers who have experienced an injury and to acknowledge the potential life-long consequences to children if proper precautions to prevent injuries are not taken.


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