WHAT IS HEMIPLEGIA
Hemiplegia is a condition precipitated by spinal cord injury or brain damage, which leads to one side of the body being paralyzed. It causes muscle stiffness, weakness, and problems with muscle control. The extent of hemiplegia symptoms varies depending on the location and intensity of the injury. Hemiparesis is a mild or partial weakness or loss of strength on one side of the body.
If hemiplegia begins before or during birth or within the first two years of life, it is referred to as congenital hemiplegia. However, if it develops later in life, it is called acquired hemiplegia. This condition is nonprogressive, so the symptoms don’t get worse after its onset.
Hemiplegia exhibits several signs and symptoms, including:
Loss of Motor Functions
The loss of motor functions causes clumsy movements and difficulty in accomplishing daily tasks. Thus, the patient experiences problems in walking, often characterized by stumbling and staggering.
Another sign is that the fist on the affected side remains clenched. This condition causes damage to the brain stem, leading to a condition known as ataxia, which is characterized by the loss of balance and fine and gross motor skills.
A person with hemiplegia experiences difficulty in speaking, which manifests as slurred speech. This is often accompanied by breathing and swallowing difficulties.
These are often characterized by altered perception, mood, and cognition.
This condition originates from traumatic brain injuries and makes the individual with hemiplegia transfer their weight to the affected side. This significantly hampers motor skills, making it difficult and painful for the patient to walk.
Seizures and Muscle Spasms
Spastic attacks and seizures can significantly debilitate the hemiplegic patient. Chronic muscle spasms and seizures can be severely painful for the patient.
Many conditions can induce hemiplegia. The main causes of hemiplegia are:
- Spinal cord injuries
- Head injuries
- Other conditions affecting the central nervous system.
Hemiplegia is a nervous system disorder that is not caused by injury to the affected side of the body. An injury to the brain or spinal cord tampers with the body’s ability to send and receive signals to the area of the body affected by the injury. So, although the right or left side of the body has not been damaged directly, the brain or spinal cord injury may cause hemiplegia.
The most common cause of hemiplegia is a stroke. A stroke impedes blood flow to a portion of the brain. Hemiplegia may occur if a section of the brain that supports perception or movement is affected. It usually affects the region of the body opposite to the affected side of the brain, so an injury to the left side of the brain affects the right side of the body.
Other causes of hemiplegia include:
- Congenital disorders such as cerebral palsy.
- Brain cancer or lesions.
- Traumatic injuries, such as a blow to the head during a motor accident.
- Brain infections, such as encephalitis and meningitis.
- Damaged neurons are caused by degenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.
In rare cases, psychological conditions can manifest as hemiplegia. When this happens, the doctor must treat the underlying psychological problem, not the physical symptoms.
Other less common occurrences include monoplegia (affects one limb), diplegia (affects both limbs – both arms or both legs), and quadriplegia (affects all 4 limbs). Their occurrence depends on the site and extent of brain damage.
Anyone can get this condition at any age. However, one’s chances of having the condition increase if you have certain risk factors. Some risk factors can be managed or changed, while others can’t.
Risk factors that can be medically managed, altered, or treated include:
- Hypertension: A blood pressure of 140/90 and above can damage the arteries that supply blood to the brain.
- Smoking: This doubles your risk of hemiplegia.
- Heart disease: It is the second most significant factor contributing to hemiplegia and stroke and is the primary cause of death for stroke patients. Heart disease and hemiplegia have many similar risk factors.
- High blood lipids and cholesterol: Excessive cholesterol and triglyceride levels cause hardening and thickening of the arteries by plaque buildup. Plaque is a deposit of calcium, cholesterol, and fatty substances. When plaque accumulates inside the artery walls, it reduces or cuts off blood flow to the brain, resulting in damage to a part of the brain.
The risk factors that one can’t change include:
- Genetics or heredity: Individuals in a family with a history of hemiplegia and stroke are at a higher risk.
- Gender: Men are more susceptible than women; however, more women than men die from the condition.
- Older age: For every ten years after age 55, one’s risk of hemiplegia doubles.
Doctors treat hemiplegia in the following ways:
- Physical therapy
- Rehabilitation exercise
- Assistive devices
- Electric stimulation
- Mental practice (mind rehearsal of a motor skill without performing it)
- Electrical acupuncture
- Modified constraint-induced movement therapy
- Sensory retraining
If you notice any signs and symptoms of hemiplegia, seek the guidance of a qualified medical practitioner to discuss treatment options. The condition is often frightening because it occurs unexpectedly. However, one doesn’t need to be alarmed. The most prevalent cause is stroke, which is often reversible if one seeks medical help immediately.
The author Samantha Higgins is a professional medical and health writer from Portland, Oregon, USA, with a passion for research, observation, and innovation.
Further read- HEMIPLEGIA