Hemiplegia | Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Spinal Cord Injury Resources

Last updated: 07-11-2020

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Hemiplegia | Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Spinal Cord Injury Resources

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Hemiplegia
Hemiplegia is a form of paralysis that affects just one side of the body, often just one arm and one leg, but occasionally with symptoms extending partially into the torso.
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What is Hemiplegia?
One hemiplegia definition is that it’s a form of trauma induced paralysis that affects either side of the body, often just one arm and one leg, but occasionally with symptoms extending partially into the torso. Hemiparesis , on the other hand, is a related condition whose symptoms include a significant loss of strength and mobility on one side of the body, but without full paralysis . Some people with hemiplegia develop the condition after a bout of hemiparesis. Others may alternate between times of hemiparesis and hemiplegia.
Hemiplegia may come on suddenly, or develop slowly over time. A condition related to hemiplegia, spastic hemiplegia, causes the muscles to get stuck in a contraction, resulting in little muscle control, chronic muscle pain, and unpredictable movements. People with hemiplegia often show other signs of brain damage or head injury, and may experience issues with other areas of their bodies.
Hemiplegia, like other forms of paralysis, is characterized by significant loss of sensation and control in the affected area. People with hemiplegia may experience intermittent pain, and may be better able to control their limbs at some times than at others.
What Causes Hemiplegia?
The brain is divided into two hemispheres, separated by a bundle of fibers called the corpus callosum. Generally speaking, the right side of the brain controls muscles and other functions on the left side of the body, while the left side of the brain controls much of the right side of the body. Thus hemiplegia often indicates a problem with one side of the brain .
However, this isn’t the only potential cause. For example, an incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI) in the cervical spinal cord can also cause hemiplegia. These incomplete SCIs are a common cause of hemiplegia in adults (as well as other forms of partial paralysis), and may result from vehicular accidents, acts of violence, slips and falls, or other events which stress the musculoskeletal system.
Though the arms, legs, and possibly torso are the regions of the body most obviously affected by hemiplegia, in most cases of hemiplegia these body regions are actually perfectly healthy. Instead, the problem resides in the brain, which is unable to produce, send, or interpret signals due to disease or trauma-related damage. Less frequently, hemiplegia results from damage to one side of the spinal cord, but these sorts of injuries more typically produce global problems, not just paralysis on one side of the body.
Common causes of hemiplegia (and other forms of trauma induced paralysis) include:
Traumatic brain injuries to one side of the brain only. These may be caused by car accidents, falls, acts of violence, and other factors.
Cardiovascular problems, particularly aneurysms and hemorrhages in the brain.
Strokes and transient ischemic attacks (better known as TIA or mini-strokes).
Infections, particularly encephalitis and meningitis. Some serious infections, particularly sepsis and abscesses in the neck, may spread to the brain if left untreated.
Conditions that cause demyelination of the brain, including multiple sclerosis and some other autoimmune diseases.
Reactions to surgery, medication, or anesthesia.
Loss of oxygen to the brain due to choking or anaphylactic shock.
Brain cancers.
Lesions in the brain, even if non-cancerous, since these lesions can impede function on one side of the brain.
Congenital abnormalities, including cerebral palsy and neonatal-onset multi-inflammatory disease.
Rarely, psychological causes; some states of catatonia can cause hemiplegia, and people with parasomnia—a sleep disorder leading to unusual nighttime behavior—may experience nighttime episodes of hemiplegia.
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Left Hemiplegia Vs Right Hemiplegia
Because of how complex the central nervous system can be, it can be difficult to generalize about injuries and congenital conditions that result in hemiplegia—and even to accurately diagnose left or right hemiplegia versus similar conditions such as hemiparesis, partial hemiplegia, or other forms of partial paralysis without an extensive period of study.
What causes left hemiplegia vs right hemiplegia? It depends on the specific nerve damage that a person experiences. As noted before, the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, and the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body. So, if the right hemisphere of the brain is damaged, but the left is intact, then it is more likely to result in left hemiparesis (and vice versa for damage to the left hemisphere). However, that isn’t necessarily a guarantee.
Any kind of traumatic brain injury (TBI) can result in partial or complete trauma induced paralysis—along with many other symptoms. As such, it’s important to undergo a complete medical evaluation following any major head trauma or other events affecting the nervous system.
What Are the Symptoms of Hemiplegia?
The symptoms and development hemiplegia can be highly variable depending on the cause. For some, the symptoms of hemiplegia may prove temporary or may improve with time, but others may struggle with their partial paralysis for the rest of their life. For some, the paralysis is extensive and complete, producing a total loss of sensation and bodily control. For others, symptoms are less severe. Some of the ways hemiplegia affects the body include:
Total or partial loss of sensation on just one side.
Changes in cognition, mood, or perception.
Difficulty speaking.
Changes on the other side of the body, since those muscles may begin to atrophy or become painful due to chronic muscle spasms.
Spastic attacks during which the muscles move without your conscious control.
Seizures.
“Pusher syndrome.” With this symptom, hemiplegics shift their weight to the paralyzed side of the body, resulting in significant loss of motor control. 
Types of Hemiplegia
While hemiplegia is typically characterized as paralysis on one side of the body, there are multiple types of hemiplegia—some of which may be more limited in scope than others. A few different types of hemiplegia include:
Facial Hemiplegia. Also referred to as partial facial paralysis, this is a form of partial hemiplegia where the muscles on one side of the face are paralyzed. Often caused by a stroke or similar brain injury. This may or may not be associated with complete/incomplete hemiplegia in other areas of the body.
Cerebral Hemiplegia. When hemiplegia is caused by cerebral palsy (or other conditions affecting the brain), it can be referred to as cerebral hemiplegia. Cerebral hemiplegia symptoms are often similar to other forms of hemiplegia, but may vary in severity and duration depending on the condition causing the paralysis.
Spastic Hemiplegia. A variation of hemiplegia where the muscles on one side of the body are in a state of constant contraction. This type of hemiplegia may result in muscle pain, deformities in affected limbs (in extreme cases), and difficulty walking or maintaining motor control. Closely linked to cerebral palsy, and the severity (as well as the duration) of spastic hemiplegia symptoms may vary from case to case.
Spinal Hemiplegia. Often the result of an incomplete injury to the spinal cord or lesions on spinal nerves (especially at the C6 vertebra or higher). Spinal cord injury hemiplegia is often a long-term condition.
Is There a Treatment for Hemiplegia?
There's no single treatment for hemiplegia that works for all people. Instead, treatment is largely dependent on the cause of hemiplegia. Some treatment options include:
Blood thinners to reduce cardiovascular blockages and decrease the chances of future strokes.
Antibiotics, usually delivered intravenously, to combat brain infections.
Surgery to remove swelling on the brain or objects lodged in the brain.
Muscle relaxant drugs.
Surgery to address secondary issues, particularly involuntary muscle contractions, spinal damage, or damage to the ligaments or tendons on the unaffected side of the body.
Physical therapy designed to help the brain work around the injuries. Physical therapy can also strengthen the unaffected side and help you reduce the loss of muscle control and tone.
Support groups, family education, and advocacy.
Psychotherapy to help you deal with the psychological effects of the disease.
Exercise therapy to help you remain healthy in spite of your disability.
Exercises for Hemiplegia
As with any condition that affects a person’s freedom of movement, exercise can be a critical part of both alleviating the symptoms of hemiplegia as well as improving a hemiplegic’s overall physical health and mental well being .
As with any physical activity for someone with a disabling condition, it’s important to consult with a doctor before starting hemiplegia exercises. Otherwise, there’s a risk of overexertion exacerbating injuries and hemiplegia symptoms, rather than alleviating them.
Some potential hemiplegia exercises to consider include:
Strength Training Exercises. Some strength training exercises can prove to be beneficial for hemiplegics. The training recommended may vary depending on the type of hemiplegia, but common exercises include knee rolling, single-leg drop outs, and single-leg bridges, among others. In some cerebral hemiplegia patients, this can help improve range of motion and functionality in the affected limbs—though this isn’t certain.
Muscle Stretches. Stretching specific muscle groups helps hemiplegics stave off some of the side effects of hemiplegia, such as joint/muscle pain from not moving limbs for too long and muscular atrophy. Spastic hemiplegics may need assistance in safely moving their contracted muscles without injury.
Seated Aerobics. Seated aerobics provide a relatively safe way to burn calories and improve health from virtually anywhere. This form of exercise is recommended for hemiplegics recovering from a spinal cord injury .
Water Aerobics. This hemiplegia exercise allows hemiplegics to relax their muscles and support the full weight of their bodies relatively easily as they stretch and work on their range of motion. Some rehabilitation programs use water aerobics as a chance to help people with paralysis to get out of the chair and experience some freedom of movement as they work muscles that are often neglected during in-chair exercises.
SCI and TBI Resources for Hemiplegia
For survivors of an SCI or TBI that causes hemiplegia, adjusting to life after the injury can be difficult. Family members and other loved ones may also face a significant challenge in adjusting to the needs of someone who is living with hemiplegia or hemiparesis—both physical and emotional.
Thankfully, there are resources for TBI/SCI survivors and their loved ones. One of the most important resources to look for after complete or partial hemiplegia is a support group. SCI/TBI support groups can help hemiplegics and their loved ones find other resources, provide advice for adapting their homes and routines around life with hemiplegia, and even provide a place to discuss their daily challenges and needs.
Another thing that hemiplegics will likely need is financial resources to help them cover their medical, therapeutic, and adapted living expenses. From hospital stays, to rehabilitation center visits, to assisted living and home modifications, living with hemiplegia can be expensive.
Finding financial resources such as trusts, insurance programs, and even legal experts to help reclaim compensation can make an enormous difference in the quality of life for someone who is hemiplegic.
If you have any more questions about hemiplegia, or need help finding resources for hemiplegics, please contact us .
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