Hemiplegic/Hemiparetic Cerebral Palsy

Hemiplegic cerebral palsy affects motor abilities and muscle tone on one side of the body. It is a form of paralysis. About 33 – 39% of children with cerebral palsy have hemiplegic cerebral palsy. Other terms for hemiplegic cerebral palsy include hemiplegia, unilateral cerebral palsy, or hemiparetic cerebral palsy (which refers to milder cases).

Causes of Hemiplegic Cerebral Palsy

The most common cause of hemiplegic cerebral palsy is a fetal or neonatal stroke. Common causes of stroke in babies include hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), birth trauma, and preeclampsia. In some cases, strokes are preventable and occur as the result of medical negligence.

Signs and Symptoms of Hemiplegic Cerebral Palsy

Sixty percent of infants who develop hemiplegic cerebral palsy have seizures in the neonatal period. Therefore, the presence of seizures can serve as an early warning sign of hemiplegic cerebral palsy. Seizures should also be promptly treated, because they can worsen existing brain damage. Other signs of hemiplegic CP, which may present in the first 18 months of life, include the following:

  • A preference for using one hand over the other; the baby may keep the affected hand coiled into a fist
  • Asymmetrical movements when crawling or standing (with assistance)
  • Delays in milestones such as rolling over, sitting upright, crawling, walking, etc.
  • Stiff muscles on one side
  • Difficulty with balance

Diagnosing Hemiplegic Cerebral Palsy

Once signs of hemiplegic cerebral palsy emerge, diagnosis can be confirmed with an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Cranial ultrasounds may also be performed.

Long-Term Outcomes and Care

Although some children with hemiplegic cerebral palsy are seriously affected by paralysis, 88% are classified as GMFCS level 1. This means that they are able to move without assistance, and by age six should be able to do activities such as:

  • Walk on uneven surfaces
  • Climb stairs without a handrail
  • Sit or stand without using their hands for support

However, they may have the following challenges:

  • Difficulty using their affected arm; for example, they may be unable to pick up small objects or turn their hand over.
  • Uneven gait, which can cause tripping
  • Vision problems or other sensory loss on one side.
  • Epilepsy is very common, affecting an estimated 44-67% of children with hemiparesis.
  • Cognitive impairments or behavioral issues
  • Speech and language problems
  • Muscular atrophy on the affected side
  • Scoliosis

Like other forms of cerebral palsy, there is no “cure” for hemiplegia. However, there are medications that can help, such as those prescribed to control seizures. Children with hemiplegic cerebral palsy may also benefit from orthotics and braces to make walking easier. Finally, various types of therapy – such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy – may help to minimize discomfort and maximize function.

Legal Help for Hemiplegic Cerebral Palsy

Hemiplegic cerebral palsy sometimes emerges as the result of malpractice. Medical professionals may fail to recognize and promptly respond to pregnancy complications, which can cause birth injuries and subsequent cerebral palsy. Alternatively, they may perform interventions that unnecessarily put the baby at risk: examples include inappropriate use of forceps and vacuum extractors or labor-assisting drugs like Pitocin or Cytotec.

Birth injury is a difficult area of law to pursue due to the complex nature of the medical records. The award-winning attorneys at ABC Law Centers: Birth Injury Lawyers have decades of joint experience with birth injury cases. To find out if you have a case, contact our firm to speak with one of our lawyers. We have numerous multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements that attest to our success, and no fees are ever paid to our firm until we win your case. We give personal attention to each child and family we help, and are available 24/7 to speak with you.

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