16 July 2014

Genes may play a role in cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy, the most common cause of physical disability in children, may have a genetic cause.


New research suggests that genes may play a role in cerebral palsy, the most common cause of physical disability in children.

Previous research has identified several pregnancy-related risk factors, including preterm delivery, abnormal growth, exposure to infection and lack of oxygen at birth. A possible family link with cerebral palsy has also been found, but not confirmed.

Read: Evidence links poor diet to preterm birth

Cerebral palsy affects your ability to move, and alters your balance and posture.

Analysing cerebral palsy

In this study, researchers analysed data from more than 2 million births in Norway between 1967 and 2002. They identified more than 3,600 cases of cerebral palsy, or 1.8 cases for every 1,000 children born during that period.

The rate was higher among twins (5.1 per 1,000 children) than among single children (1.7 per 1,000 children). If one twin had cerebral palsy, the other twin had a 15 times increased risk of the condition.

Read: Risk factors for cerebral palsy, early infant death pinpointed

If one child in a family had cerebral palsy, full siblings who were born later had a six to nine times increased risk, and half siblings had up to a three times increased risk. Children born to parents with cerebral palsy were 6.5 times more likely to have the condition than those born to unaffected parents.

Even first cousins of people with cerebral palsy had a 1.5 times increased risk, according to the findings in The BMJ. It's the first study to examine cerebral palsy over such a wide range of family links.

Read: Pre-eclampsia increases cerebral palsy risk

"Our data suggest that cerebral palsy includes a genetic component, with a stronger recurrence among relatives with closer genetic relationship," the researchers wrote.

Causes and risk of the condition

When a child is born with cerebral palsy, parents want to know whether they did anything to cause the condition, and whether it may recur in other children or grandchildren, paediatrician Dr. Peter Rosenbaum wrote in an accompanying commentary.

He noted that the search for the causes of cerebral palsy is "far from over", but added that even family members with a 15 times increased risk have a small actual risk of the condition.

"This information should provide some reassurance to families in which cerebral palsy is already present," Rosenbaum concluded.

Read more:

Mom's diet linked to birth defect
Painkillers tied to birth defects
Decongestants linked to birth defects

Image: Boy with cerebral palsy from Shutterstock

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