Hemiplegia

physical therapist working with patient
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Definition: Hemiplegia, also known as paralysis, is the loss of muscle function. It can be complete or partial. It can occur on one or both sides of the body. Hemiplegia affects one side of the body such as the leg and arm of the same side of the body. An injury to the right side of the brain will cause left-sided hemiplegia while and injury to the left side of the brain will cause right-sided hemiplegia.

There are many types and degrees of hemiplegia. It can be classified as:

  • Partial – retaining some control of the muscles
  • Complete – inability to move any muscle
  • Permanent – muscle control does not come back
  • Temporary – some muscle control returns
  • Flaccid – muscles become flabby and shrink
  • Spastic – muscles are hard and spasm

Causes of Hemiplegia

Muscle movement is controlled by signals sent to the body by the brain. When brain damage occurs the signals are not able to move through the brain to the muscles resulting in paralysis. Most cases of hemiplegia occur as a result of a stroke.

Other causes of hemiplegia include the following:

Symptoms of Hemiplegia

Based on the cause, symptoms of hemiplegia can vary. Yet, they are noticeable. A patient with a spinal cord injury or birth defect will be unable to move and have little to no sensation in the affected body part.

Paralysis due to a medical condition may cause the patient to slowly lose muscle control. They may feel numbness or tingling before loss of muscle control.

Diagnosis of Hemiplegia

Diagnosis to confirm hemiplegia, if not occurring as a result of a stroke or spinal cord injury, is accomplished by conducting the following imaging and diagnostic procedures:

  • X-ray
  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • Myelography
  • Electromyography (EMG)
  • Complete blood count

Treatment for Hemiplegia

There is no cure for hemiplegia. In some cases muscle control and feeling may return on its own. Hemiplegia is non-progressive and may respond to treatment.

Some treatments for patients with hemiplegia include:

  • Physical Therapy
    Exercise is helpful to keep joints loose and flexible, reduce stress and prevents secondary conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, pressure sores, obstructive pulmonary disease, carpal tunnel disease and urinary tract infections. Exercising helps develop a more positive attitude and increased socialization.  Exercise enhances brain cell proliferation, helps to fight degenerative diseases and improves memory.
  • Occupational Therapy
    Therapy to relearn everyday activities
  • Mobility Aids
    Mobility aids that include manual and electric wheelchairs and scooters as well as braces, canes and walkers
  • Assistive Technology
    Use of voice-activated devices, computers, telephones and lighting systems
  • Adaptive Equipment
    Use of controls for driving, eating utensils, health and beauty aids.

Complications of Hemiplegia

Secondary conditions of hemiplegia are problems a patient might have that occur after the primary disabling condition, such as a stroke or brain injury.

Some of the complications of hemiplegia include:

  • Bladder management
  • Bowel management
  • Pain
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • Autonomic dysreflexia
  • Depression
  • Respiratory difficulties
  • Sepsis
  • Pressure wounds
  • Spasticity

Patients with hemiplegia can lead independent, active lives with the use of mobility aids and devices that are supportive and adaptive. 

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