Paraplegia: What Is It and What Causes It?
Paraplegia, commonly termed partial paralysis, is a kind of paralysis in which function is considerably hampered from below the level of injury. Most persons with paraplegia (commonly referred to as paraplegics) have completely healthy legs. Instead, an injury or sickness to the brain or spinal cord is to blame, which prevents impulses from reaching the lower body.
Like other kinds of paralysis, paraplegia symptoms may vary greatly from one individual to the next. While the stereotype of a paraplegic is of someone in a wheelchair who cannot move his or her arms or legs, cannot feel anything below the level of injury, and cannot walk, paraplegics actually have a range of capabilities that may change over time, both as their health evolves and their physical therapy helps them learn to work around their injuries.
Damage to the brain, spinal cord, or both is usually invariably the cause of paraplegia. Spinal cord injuries, whether to the thoracic, lumbar, or sacral sections, are the most common cause of paralysis. When these injuries occur, messages cannot move to and from the lower portions of the body, and the body is stopped from sending signals back up the spinal cord to the brain.
As a result, paraplegics not only have difficulty moving below the level of injury, but they also have significant sensory loss. Depending on the severity of the injury, a person may only be able to experience mild tingling or diminished sensations below the point of injury.
Some injuries create temporary paralysis in one or both legs. Even the aftermath of a seizure, an allergic response, or some surgical compilations might seem like paraplegia in the correct conditions. As a result, physicians should delay making a paraplegia diagnosis until many days or weeks have passed after the injury.
Instead, it might take anything from a few hours to several days to identify this disease. Your doctor will need to check at your brain and/or spinal cord to determine whether there are damaged nerves or tissue that hinder the ability of impulses to move to and from the legs. Those exams could include:
- Blood testing to examine if an infection, cancer, or other condition contributes to the paraplegia.
- A lumbar puncture is a procedure that removes a tiny amount of fluid from your spinal cord in order to check for infections, bleeding, certain malignancies, or certain inflammations.
- CT scans or MRIs to view your brain and spinal cord.
- Myelography X-rays to picture your spinal cord and brain.
Types of Paraplegia
While leg paralysis is the most common symptom of paraplegia, there are many subtypes that present with varying degrees of paraplegia-related symptoms.. Some of kinds of paraplegia include:
Partial or Complete paraplegia (Paraparesis)
There may be cases when paraplegia may not totally affect both legs. For example, one limb may be entirely paralyzed, while the other has limited or even normal function. There are several causes that might cause “incomplete paraplegia,” which is another term for this kind of paralysis.
In certain situations, a case of total paraplegia may turn into a case of partial paraplegia after rehabilitative treatment for paraplegia. On the other hand, a degenerative disease may lead a case of partial paraplegia to become total paraplegia as symptoms advance.
When some functioning remains in either leg, it may also be referred to as paraparesis, however there is considerable controversy as to whether it should be referred to as such.
This is when the paraplegic maintains no sensation or function in their legs whatsoever. A person who is completely paraplegic is unable to use one of their legs and may also suffer from other problems, such as losing control of their bladder or bowels.
Complete spinal cord injuries in the thoracic and lumbar portions of the spine are major causes of this kind of symptom. Injuries to the cervical area of the spine are more likely to induce quadriplegia (paralysis of the arms and legs) (paralysis of the arms and legs).
Complete Versus Incomplete Paraplegia
The fundamental distinction between total and partial paraplegia is whether the paraplegic retains some (or most) of their ability to use or feel either leg. Partial paraplegia may leave a paraplegic with some feeling or motor control in one leg whereas total paralysis leaves the paraplegic with no functioning or sensation in either limb.
Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia
The National Institute of Neurological Illnesses and Stroke (NINDS) describes hereditary spastic paraplegia (or HSP) as “a category of genetic disorders that are characterized by increasing weakening and spasticity (stiffness) of the legs.”
Symptoms of hereditary spastic paraplegia include:
- Stiffness in the legs;
- Impaired vision from cataracts and optic nerve issues;
- Lack of muscle coordination (ataxia); and
- Cognitive impairment.
This is a form of paraplegia that may be inherited from a parent, hence it is vital to know whether any family members have the disorder. Hereditary spastic paraplegia is more likely in families when HSP runs in the blood.
HSP is often diagnosed with a neurological examination to rule out other illnesses that may produce the similar symptoms.
Quadriplegia Vs Paraplegia
highlight-of-cervical-and-sacral-spineSome individuals may get paraplegia and quadriplegia confused since the two names are so similar. The fundamental distinction between paraplegia versus quadriplegia is that:
Paraplegia is a paralysis of the legs.Paralysis of the limbs and hands is referred to as quadriplegia.Both problems are often the outcome of traumas or diseases affecting the brain and spinal cord. Damage to the cervical spine (the bones of the neck) is more likely to result in quadriplegia than injuries farther down the spine in cases of spinal cord injury.
What Causes Paraplegia?
The vast majority of paraplegics have perfectly healthy legs. Instead, the issue stems from the central nervous system, namely the brain and spinal cord. The spinal cord is analogous to the body’s relay system, transmitting impulses down into the body from the brain and relaying signals from the body to the brain.
This information is then sent down the spinal cord and back to the brain, where it is processed and made meaning of.
- Car and motorcycle accidents (38.3%)
- Falls (31.6%)
- Violence, the most common source of which is gunshot wounds (13.8%)
- Sports and recreational activities, with diving accidents leading the way (8.2%)
- Medical or surgical injuries (4.6%)
- Other/unspecified (3.5%)
The majority of spinal cord and brain injuries are traumatic in origin, which means they are caused by a quick impact to the region. Although certain injuries are non-traumatic, they are often caused by illnesses or genetic abnormalities. Paraplegia may also be caused by:
- Non-traumatic paraplegia is most often caused by strokes.
- Hereditary conditions, such as spastic paraplegia, may run in families.
- Choking, problems during delivery, and other accidents may deprive the brain or spinal cord of oxygen.
- Diseases of the immunological system.
- Infections of the central nervous system.
- Brain or spinal cord abnormalities, tumors, or cancer.
- Syrinx is a spinal cord condition.
Some of the Risk Factors for ParaplegiaHowever, although paraplegia is most often caused by illness or injury, there are several risk factors that enhance your likelihood of becoming paraplegic.. An accident or illness that results in paraplegia may have several contributing factors, however risk factors are not the cause of paraplegia.
The following are a few of the most prevalent risk factors for paraplegia:
New SCI cases are 78 percent male, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC). Men are more likely to become paraplegic than women since SCI is a prevalent cause of paraplegia.
What is the life expectancy of a paraplegic?
Data from the NSCISC reveals that the average age of a spinal cord injury victim is currently 43 years old (up from 29 a few decades ago). Falls and other accidents that cause serious spinal cord injury are more likely to happen to elderly people who have osteoporosis or other bone health issues.
Serious head or spinal column injuries are more likely in certain occupations and activities, raising the possibility of paralysis. Some examples include law enforcement and construction jobs, as well as sports such as boxing, football and diving.
Health Records of the Family.
Other illnesses, including genetic nerve diseases, may play a role in brain and spinal traumas that lead to paralysis.
Symptoms and Signs of Paraplegia
Paraplegia is a disorder that varies in severity. Symptoms may vary from person to person throughout time, or even from one day to the next for the same individual. Therapy may have a significant impact on illness progression and improvement, yet many results seem to be unpredictably random.
For the time being, experts don’t know why some patients heal spontaneously, while others languish even with intensive treatment.
Swelling in the wounded region might alleviate discomfort in certain circumstances. Infection and disease-related processes may potentially lessen or reverse symptoms, or impede the rehabilitation of paraplegia. To learn more about how paralysis could effect your daily life, you should talk to your doctor.
The greatest physicians can’t be confident of the prognosis, and you should not allow even a bleak prognosis to deter you from pursuing a healthy lifestyle.
Paraplegia may cause a wide range of symptoms, including:
- Below the damage site, there is a loss of feeling. The more severe the injury, the more likely it is to result in a loss of feeling.
- Phantom symptoms in the lower part of the body, such as inexplicable discomfort, electrical sensations, or other sporadic experiences.
- Reduced libido or decreased fertility are all symptoms of sexual decline.
- Constipation and urinary incontinence.
- Reduced range of motion below the level of the damage.
- People diagnosed with paraplegia often experience mood swings and sadness.
- If your calorie intake is not changed to account for your decreased exercise level, you may put on weight.
- The lower half of the body, notably the skin and bedsores that might develop.
- Infections or lesions develop at the location of the injury as a result of the primary injury.
- Spinal nerve damage or traumatic brain injury may cause autonomic dysreflexia (fast heartbeat, high blood pressure, and other alterations in autonomic function).
- Pain that lasts a long time.
Assessment of Paraplegic Condition
A thorough evaluation by a doctor is often required to precisely identify the kind of paraplegia a patient is experiencing and its underlying cause. If you have a paraplegic, you need these evaluations to determine the optimum paraplegia treatment and workout plan for you.
Paraplegia diagnosis may include the following:
- Neurological examinations (to check for neurological abnormalities affecting leg function); Electromyography (to test response to muscle stimuli); and a review of family medical history (to check for hereditary factors that may contribute to paraplegia/paraparesis) are just a few of the many tests that may be performed.
- Paraplegia exercise and rehabilitation regimens might be recommended by doctors when a patient’s diagnosis is finalized.
The Challenges of Paraplegia
Life-altering paraplegia affects many, whether they were born with a genetic ailment that produced gradual changes or were struck down by an illness or event that left them paraplegic.
People with paraplegia and those who care for them both benefit from learning new ways of adapting to life with a disability. Everyone in a person’s life has to adjust when they lose the ability to walk due to a disability.
Paraplegia may cause a wide range of medical issues, including paralysis of the lower limbs. Inability to stand or move about may lead to a wide range of complications, from the merely uncomfortable and unpleasant to the life-threatening.
Medical issues associated with paraplegia include the following:
Bruises Caused by Constant Stress
Legs or buttocks sores might develop if you’re unable to move about. In order to avoid this, paraplegia exercises and frequent positioning adjustments are necessary.
Infections of the urinary tract
Because the nerves that regulate the intestines and bladder are connected to the brain, urinary retention is a typical side effect of paraplegia. A urinary tract infection (UTI) may also result from germs lingering in the urinary system.
UTIs may be cleared up with antibiotics, and urinary retention can be avoided with indwelling catheters or intermittent catheter use.
How do paraplegics pee and poop?
Depression that lasts over an extended period of time.
Paraplegia may make daily tasks like getting dressed and going to the bathroom almost impossible. Following a paraplegia-inducing event or disease, paraplegics are often despondent. Both from loved ones and support organizations are crucial for paraplegics.
Blood Flow Difficulties
Circulatory problems are another typical consequence of being unable to move freely. Engaging in physical activity or contacting an expert in occupational therapy might be beneficial.
Sex and Paraplegia
Among paraplegics, a loss of sexual function and sensation is particularly prevalent. Many individuals believe that being paralyzed precludes one from engaging in sexual relations. However, if you are paralyzed below the level of damage, your sexual life does not have to stop there.
The use of “reflex triggers” (contact-based stimulation to erogenous zones—like the phallus—on the male body) may still be viable for males. Some paraplegic men may use reflex triggers with penile vibrators to get an erection and even ejaculate, although this may not be possible for everyone if the sacral spinal nerves are destroyed.
It might be difficult for women to attain lubrication and orgasm when they lose feeling in the vagina. Spinalcord.com guest blogger Tiffiny Carlson has emphasized the need of sexual intercourse experimentation in order to identify new and exciting erogenous zones. Using “bedroom aids,” like as lubrication, may also be helpful in enhancing intercourse.
In order to assist couples retain an active and healthy sex life following paraplegia, both men and women might look for alternatives to normal intercourse (such as more prolonged foreplay).
What to know about caring for paraplegic?
Treatments for paraplegia and recovery
A “miracle cure” for paraplegics is a common hope for many individuals. While there is no known treatment for paraplegia, there are things patients may take to expedite their recovery and possibly potentially restore part of their legs’ use.
Learning to live with the symptoms of paraplegia may be a lengthy and arduous journey for paraplegics. In order to recover from paralysis, there are a number of measures that might vary greatly depending on the reason and severity of the illness.
Seeking Medical Attention Right Away After an Accident. A substantial TBI or SCI may have a significant influence on the severity of symptoms and even the chance of life if the patient receives timely treatment. The intensity of paraplegia symptoms may be reduced by receiving high-quality treatment and care (such as keeping a case of incomplete paraplegia from becoming complete paraplegia).
Investigating Your Rehabilitation Options After a Paraplegia. It is critical to explore all of your options for healing, including surgery, physical treatment, and nutritional adjustments. Despite the fact that a perfect paraplegia treatment does not exist (yet), several of these rehabilitation choices may help paraplegics cope better with their disabilities and enhance their quality of life.
Searching for Support Groups for People with Paraplegia, Paralysis, or SCI. Paraplegics and those with varying degrees of paralysis may get help from a variety of different organizations (and their loved ones). The information and support you may get from these organizations can be invaluable.
Additional services for paraplegics and their loved ones, like as financial assistance programs, may also be able to guide them in the direction of additional resources.
Allowing for Mobility Issues by Making Modifications. Making alterations to the house to make it more accessible may be an important part of recuperating from a disability that restricts movement.
Paraplegics who are confined to a wheelchair may need to install ramps or wheelchair lifts to get around, redesign spaces with appliances to make them easier to reach or move around in, and widen doors to allow a wheelchair or other mobility aid to pass through. These are all possible solutions for paraplegics.
Thinking about Getting Help from a Therapist. Many people, even paraplegics, underestimate the psychological toll that being unable to move may have. When a paraplegic suffers from a severe brain injury, a professional in psychological treatment may be necessary.
Helping a paraplegic find a competent therapist is something that others who know them can do. To be depressed or worse, it is all too simple to ignore the warning indications of psychological anguish.
Some or all of these processes may be altered, as indicated before. The first step in any paraplegia rehabilitation strategy should be consulting a certified physician.