Fetal Brain Damage
How It Can Happen
Cerebral palsy is caused by fetal brain damage, occurring when there insufficient oxygen supply to the fetal brain and nervous system. The result is damaged brain and nerve tissues, reduced motor functions and often delayed development. Fetal brain injury can occur while the fetus still growing in the womb, or during the birth. Several factors can cause this devastating injury to a fetus or neonate.
Prenatal Causes of Fetal Brain Damage
- Certain infections like rubella, herpes simplex and other can result in cerebral palsy.
- Damage to the placenta, whether through premature separation from the uterine wall or other means, can reduce the level of oxygen that can be delivered to the fetus, resulting in fetal brain damage and cerebral palsy.
- Severe malnutrition, overconsumption of alcohol or use of drugs during pregnancy can result in fetal brain damage.
- Untreated high blood pressure in the mother, often referred to as preeclampsia, can result in cerebral palsy.
Postnatal Causes of Fetal Brain Damage
Sometimes during birth, the umbilical cord becomes compressed, cutting off the oxygen supply to the fetus. The problem is more common in cases of exceptionally large sized infants. If not corrected quickly, umbilical compression can result in fetal brain damage, affecting both the brain and nervous system.
Placenta previa occurs when the placenta separates from the uterus prematurely. This can cause severe bleeding for the mother and a dangerous loss of oxygen for the fetus. The disruption in oxygen supply can often cause brain injury to the neonate.
Severely premature babies are at a much higher risk of sustaining fetal brain damage. These infants frequently have problems with their cardiovascular and pulmonary systems, resulting in decreased blood and oxygen flows to the brain. Premature infants suffer from brain damage 30 times more frequently than healthy, full-term infants.
Most fetal brain damage occurs during the womb. Only a few cases of fetal brain injury occur due to lack of oxygen during birth. This gives high importance to detecting and preventing fetal brain damage while in utero.
Living with Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy is usually diagnosed immediately after birth, but can also occur later during a child's life. Almost all children who suffer from fetal brain damage will have a lack of muscle control. They can also have difficulty with movement due to nervous system damage. Other common symptoms of fetal brain damage and cerebral palsy are seizures, hearing and vision problems, learning difficulties and hyperactivity.
Because cerebral palsy cannot be cured, prevention is very important. Scientists are now learning how to test fetal brain activity. Researches have begun using a scanning device that sends light impulses into the mother's womb to which the fetus can respond. Sensors then detect small changes to the magnetic field surrounding the fetus during brain activity.
Large scale testing needs to be done on this device to determine normal fetal reaction times to the light stimulus. With this hard data, doctors will be able to test fetuses early for signs of brain damage.
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