The Link Between Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy



Around 1 in 4 children with cerebral palsy also experience epileptic seizures, with the majority of cases experiencing the onset of symptoms by two years of age.


To many parents, the coincidence of cerebral palsy and epilepsy in their child can feel like bad luck, given the symptoms of the conditions are very different. Cerebral palsy tends to generally affect movement and coordination, while epilepsy results in (often unpredictable) seizures of varying regularity, and severity.


However, there is actually a well-established link between cerebral palsy and epilepsy, both being neurological conditions which are commonly caused by brain injury before, during, or after birth.


What is cerebral palsy?


Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition which affects movement in the body as well as causing problems with motor control, coordination, muscle tone, and gait. Cerebral palsy tends to be caused by brain injury at birth, although the symptoms of the condition usually only become noticeable during the first few years of the child’s life.


A very small number of cerebral palsy cases occur after birth, when children are very young, and their brains are still developing.


Symptoms of cerebral palsy include:


  • Developmental delays, such as not starting to walk by 18 months
  • Fidgeting or clumsy movements
  • Random movements or difficulties with motor control
  • Appearing floppy or too stiff
  • Tiptoe walking
  • Swallowing issues and speech difficulties
  • Learning difficulties
  • Vision problems


Some people with cerebral palsy may only experience minor symptoms, while others may be considered severely disabled. There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but treatments such as physiotherapy, speech therapy, regular exercise, and medication can help alleviate the symptoms.


What is epilepsy?


Epilepsy is a spectrum condition, the main symptom of which is bursts of electrical activity in the brain which cause seizures. Depending on the severity and recurrence of the condition, seizures can range from mild to life-threatening. Different types of seizures include:


  • Focal seizures – where one part of brain is affected. During focal seizures, sufferers either stay conscious while experiencing sudden, unexpected emotions and sensations (such as smells and tastes) or they lose consciousness while exhibiting abnormal behaviour such as twitching or blinking
  • Generalised seizures – where both sides of the brain are simultaneously affected. This category of seizures can be further broken down into:
    • Absence seizures – causing the sufferer to jerk their muscles and stare into space
    • Clonic seizures – repeated jerking of the whole body
    • Tonic seizures – various muscles going stiff
    • Tonic-clonic seizures – a mixture of both clonic and tonic seizure symptoms
    • Atonic seizures – sudden loss of muscle tone causing falls or head drooping


Why are children with cerebral palsy also likely to experience epilepsy?


Children with cerebral palsy are also likely to have epilepsy because both conditions are often caused by a brain injury at birth. As such, being diagnosed with cerebral palsy is automatically considered a risk factor for epilepsy.


The causes of cerebral palsy and epilepsy include:


  • Oxygen deprivation at birth (birth asphyxia)
  • A head injury
  • Genetic conditions
  • Infections in the baby, such as meningitis
  • Infections in the mother prior to birth
  • Bleeding in the child’s brain and neonatal stroke
  • Abnormal blood sugar levels


Children who had a neonatal stroke (or perinatal stroke) at birth are particularly susceptible to both epileptic seizures and cerebral palsy, although a high number of children with cerebral palsy will experience at least one seizure in their lifetime.


Claim compensation for injuries caused at birth


If you are the parent or carer of a child with cerebral palsy and/or epilepsy due to a brain injury at birth, and you suspect it was caused or made worse as a result of the negligence (such as a medical professional attending your delivery), or deliberate act of someone else, you may be able to make a birth injury compensation claim.


Claiming compensation for another person’s actions or negligence is a complicated task and can be particularly daunting if you are the primary carer for a disabled child. Therefore, it’s essential to obtain the advice and representation of an experienced birth injury solicitor with specialist knowledge in the areas of brain injury, cerebral palsy, and epilepsy.


If your birth injury claim is successful, you could recover substantial compensation for things like pain and suffering caused by the injury and the costs of long-term care and treatment (which may need to span the injured person’s entire lifetime).


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