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Paralysis – Types, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

As kids, we have been told or probably given the explanation that paralysis is the complete inability for someone to move, control body movements as well as sensations, and/or sense touch on a particular area is considered paralyzed.

Although this can be considered accurate in some ways, however, that is not all there is to paralysis. Paralysis contains a whole lot more. Paralysis comes in several forms and ways, and a person who is paralyzed is not wholly condemned.

Current researches and improvements in the medical world have been able to help improve the living condition of a person who is paralyzed. Once the patient can undergo extensive physical therapy, the person can learn to manage the conditions.

In some rare cases where there is no complete nerve damage, the patient may regain the use of that body part.

What then is Paralysis?

Paralysis, by a simple definition, is the partial or complete inability to move a particular part of the body. The condition can either be temporary or permanent. In most cases, before paralysis can occur, then there has to be nerve damage or a nerve block.

This means that the primary cause of paralysis is nerve damage or a nerve block. One misconception about paralysis is that it is caused due to an injury to the affected region.

Actually, it is not. If the injury causes nerve damage to occur, then it will lead to paralysis; however, if nerve damage doesn’t happen, the person will have an injury to the affected, and it can heal perfectly after appropriate treatment.

For instance, if a person has an accident or an injury that causes damage to the spinal cord, either the middle or lower part, the patient will lose the function of parts that are controlled by the nerves which come out of the middle and lower part of the spinal cord. However, the organs itself are as healthy as ever.

However, if the person has an injury around that region but didn’t affect the spinal cord, there will be no paralysis; there will only be physical or internal injuries that will heal over time.

How does one become paralyzed?

There are so many ways by which one can become paralyzed, and this goes to say that there are many causes of paralysis. Generally, all movements in the body, including muscle movements, are controlled by the trigger signals which are released from the brain.

The brain, the spinal cord, the nerves, as well as the nerve fibers all form a system known as the nervous system. The nervous system is like a relay system where the part that begins the transmission of impulses is the brain or spinal cord, and the termination point of impulses is the nerve fiber endings within the muscle.

The completion of this relay system is what often brings an impulse as well as a muscle contraction, which will, in turn, bring body movement.

When any part of this relay system either the brain, the spinal cord, the nerves or the nerve endings which are found within the muscle happens to become damaged; there will either be no generation of impulse, nor there will be no transmission of impulses which will cause the person to become paralyzed.

Paralysis is not only caused by an accident or an injury. Paralysis can also be a resultant effect of congenital disabilities such as Spina Bifida. Spina Bifida occurs as a result of the malformation or incomplete closing of the neural crest cells.

This will cause the incomplete formation of either the brain, spinal cord, or the meninges (which are the coverings that envelop the brain and spinal cord), and this will ultimately result in paralysis as well as other congenital abnormalities.

However, research has shown that the majority of people who are paralyzed are often so due to an accident or a medical condition whose resultant effect affects the muscles as well as the overall functionality of the nervous system.

The common causes of paralysis include;

  1. A spinal injury can be a resultant effect of an accident or violence, which causes paralysis.
  2. A head injury which can also be caused by an accident
  3. Stroke
  4. Multiple Sclerosis
  5. Cerebral Palsy
  6. Gillian-Barré syndrome
  7. Toxins or poisons
  8. ALS(Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) that is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
  9. Bacterial and/or Viral infections
  10. Spinal tumors.
  11. Other autoimmune disorders
  12. Inherited disorders such as leukodystrophies
  13. Muscular dystrophies
  14. Traumatic Brain Injury

Types of Paralysis

There are different types of paralysis. The types of paralysis come from different variations as to how the body gets injured. Generally, paralysis is classified mainly into four categories, and they include:

Monoplegia

Monoplegia is said to occur to a paralyzed patient when only one part of that patient is paralyzed. Usually, monoplegia occurs to one limb of the body (either the left or right upper arm or the left or right lower leg).

For people who have monoplegia, they usually can use their other unaffected limb properly. They can walk, write and do different kinds of stuff with the functional limbs, however, for the affected limb, they will be unable to feel sensations or nerve contractions in it and as such, will not be able to move the muscle of the limb causing it to be paralyzed.

Causes of Monoplegia

Monoplegia is often caused by many factors. However, it has been observed that the leading cause of monoplegia is cerebral palsy. These factors range from ailments to injuries, and they include;

  • Tumors
  • Stroke
  • Diseases that can cause nerve damages or nerve injuries
  • Nerve impingement
  • Damage to the motor neurons
  • Brain injuries
  • Several severed or disjointed nerves at a particular location.

Sometimes, monoplegia can be seen as a temporary condition.  It becomes a temporary condition when the nerves that are supplying that muscle are not entirely severed.

As such, through the aid of intensive physical therapy, one can regain complete control of the affected limb. Temporary monoplegia is often seen in conditions such as a stroke or a brain injury.

Hemiplegia

Hemiplegia is another type of paralysis. Hemiplegia often affects a particular half of the body. Unlike monoplegia that affects only one limb, hemiplegia is said to occur when either the entire left side of the body or right side is completely paralyzed.

One thing that must be noted is that with hemiplegia, the degree and variations differ from person to person and may often change from time to time. Mostly, hemiplegia begins with needle-like sensations. The patient will experience feelings of as though a needle or pin is being used to prick their nerve endings.

This is often quickly followed by severe muscle weakness before it becomes full-blown paralysis. Patients who have hemiplegia often realize that their degree of functionality varies from time to time, depending on their level of activity, overall body health, and function as well as other factors.

It is important to note that hemiplegia must not be confused with hemiparesis. Hemiparesis doesn’t mean paralysis. Hemiparesis is said to occur when one side of the body is experiencing severe body weakness.

Although hemiparesis isn’t hemiplegia, hemiparesis often is a strong indication of intending hemiplegia waiting to happen, especially to those who have had neurological disturbances in the past.

Hemiplegia may sometimes present as a temporary form of paralysis. The overall outlook often depends on how early treatments and physical therapy begins as well as the general health of the patient.

Causes of hemiplegia

Hemiplegia is often caused by a number of factors; however, just like monoplegia, hemiplegia is usually as a result of cerebral palsy. Some other diseases, such as nervous system disorders as well as injuries such as brain injuries, incomplete spinal cord injuries, can be causes of hemiplegia.

Paraplegia

Another form of paralysis is called paraplegia. Paraplegic refers to the kind of paralysis which affects the waist and the structures below it. This means that once a person is paralyzed from the waist down, that kind of paralysis is known as paraplegia.

Often, paraplegia affects the waist, hips, both legs, and also other functionalities such as the person’s ability to have sex and elimination. One mistake we often make is that we generalize that all people with paraplegia can’t walk, move their legs, or generally feel anything from the waist down.

However, this is not true because of the variations that occur. Sometimes, they may be able to feel, and at other times, it feels like they are dead from the waist down. In other words, paraplegia generally refers to the impairment of functionality and movement and not necessarily a complete lack of use, total or permanent paralysis of the limbs.

Research has shown that people with paraplegia rarely recover and are mostly confide in a wheelchair all their lives. Although the reason for their inability to recover can’t be fully explained, some doctors have speculated that it could be a result of damage to the brain and/spinal cord, as well as the inability of neurons to regenerate.

In some cases, however, some people with paraplegia are able to regain some control over the use of their limbs after undergoing intensive physical therapy which is directed at retraining the brain and the spinal cord to work around their current limitations while helping to strengthen the already weakened muscles and nerve connection.

Causes of Paraplegia

One of the most common causes of Paraplegia is spinal cord injuries. Once these kinds of injuries occur, it impairs the ability of both the brain and spinal cord to send signals to the various sites below the damage as well as receive impulses from those sites.

This, therefore, causes the lack of communication between the nervous system and the affected areas, hence, causing paralysis.

However, it should be noted that spinal cord injuries are not the only type of injuries that can cause paraplegia. Other causes include:

  • Infections that affect the spinal cord
  • Lesions of the spinal cord
  • Infections that affect the brain or its meninges
  • Brain tumors
  • Some nerve damages at the hip or waist can cause paraplegia. Nerve damages, such as sciatic nerve injuries can result in paraplegia.
  • Prolonged deprivation of oxygen to either the brain, spinal cord, or both. This can be due to choking, strangulation, violence, or surgical incidences.
  • Congenital malformations in the brain and spinal
  • Stroke.

Quadriplegia

Another name for quadriplegia is tetraplegia. Quadriplegia refers to paralysis that affects areas from the neck down. This means that a patient is said to have quadriplegia when he loses control of both arms and legs, as well as his torso.

Just like in paraplegia, the degree of movement experienced in these areas vary from person to person or from moment to moment. Research has shown that some persons with quadriplegia may sometimes unexpectedly regain some form of functionality in the affected areas.

However, for other persons, they may have to undergo serious physical therapy and exercise, which will help them retrain their brains as well as their bodies to resume functionality.

Causes of quadriplegia

Often, quadriplegia is a temporary condition which is a result of stroke, brain injuries, or compression of nerves that arise from the spinal cord.

For those who have spinal injuries, they may tend to suffer instant quadriplegia; however, when the swelling which occurred as a result of the injury goes down, they begin to experience a lesser form of paralysis.

Spinal cord injuries, just like in paraplegia, are the most common causes of quadriplegia. Spinal cord injuries almost always arise from common causes such as acts of violence, automobile accidents, falls, or injuries gotten while engaging in some contact sporting activities such as American football.

Asides accidents, traumatic brain injuries have also been seen to cause this kind of paralysis. Other causes of quadriplegia include:

  • Infections, stroke and other related diseases to the brain which can lead to acquired brain injuries
  • Loss of adequate supply of oxygen to the brain and the spinal cord which is caused by choking, accidents caused by improper administration of anesthesia, anaphylactic shock and so on
  • Lesions of any part of the brain and spinal cord
  • Tumors which affects any part of the brain and spinal cord
  • Infections affecting the brain and spinal cord
  • Catastrophic nerve damage which affects the whole body.
  • Congenital malformations
  • Brain injuries that occur at pre-birth or during birth, which leads to paralysis, will present with different types of paralysis, including quadriplegia.
  • Adverse allergic reactions to certain kinds of drugs.
  • Overdoses of both drugs and alcohol.

Spastic or Flaccid paralysis

This form of paralysis is not the usual type of paralysis and, more often than not, is not usually considered. However, this kind of paralysis occurs as a result of compression or complete lesion of the nerves, which, in turn, causes the muscles to atrophy or shrink and become flabby.

This, therefore, causes muscle weakness to occur. In some cases, it may not result in flaccid paralysis; instead, it causes the muscles to become tight and hard; therefore, causing uncontrollable muscle twitches and spasms to occur.

Treatment of Paralysis

Treatment of paralysis depends on the type of paralysis, symptoms experienced as well as the underlying cause. In some severe cases, the doctors may prescribe complete amputation of the limb.

However, other treatment options that can be prescribed include:

  1. Corrective surgery
  2. Therapy which includes physical and sometimes occupational therapy.
  3. Mobility aids such as braces, mobile scooters, wheelchairs, walkers or other devices that can assist the patient recover
  4. For those who have spastic paralysis, they may prescribe drugs such as botox, which enables the muscles of the patient to become relaxed.
  5. The doctors may prescribe a change in the lifestyle of the patient and other treatments in case if there is any complication that may arise.
Deborah Akinola
Wirter, poet and public speaker

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