Hemiparesis and hemiplegia represent varying degrees of weakness in the body, causing the inability to move. The difference is in the extent of the weakness responsible for the inability. Hemiplegia is the loss of strength or almost complete weakness in the half side of the body. Hemiparesis is a relatively mild weakness (or decreased strength) in the half side of the body. Half side of the body includes side limbs and/or the face.
The words, right or left-sided hemiplegia or hemiparesis, are used depending on the location of weakness on your body.
The symptoms of hemiplegia and hemiparesis are similar. However, hemiplegia is more severe than hemiparesis. Both forms of paralysis can cause you to:
- Lose balance
- Walk with difficulty
- Lose coordination
- Unable to grab objects
- Lose movement precision.
- You may be unable to guess the weight of the object in hand with your eyes closed
What causes hemiparesis and hemiplegia?
Anything that injures or compromises the blood flow on one side of the brain and spinal cord can lead to hemiparesis or hemiplegia. If the damage is extensive, the result is hemiplegia; mild damage usually causes hemiparesis.
Most often, hemiparesis and hemiplegia are caused by stroke. Other causes include:
- Brain Infections
- Trauma to the brain or the spinal cord
- Cerebral palsy
- Brain tumor
- Spina bifida
- Multiple sclerosis
- Muscular dystrophy
The site of injury in the brain will determine the location of your weakness. Injury to the left side of the brain can result in right-sided weakness. Left-sided weakness results when the right side of the brain gets injured.
How are hemiparesis and hemiplegia diagnosed?
Doctors usually diagnose hemiparesis and hemiplegia by physical examination. To confirm the diagnosis and find their cause, they will make you undergo a few tests that include:
- Blood tests
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
- Electromyography (EMG)
Can hemiplegia and hemiparesis be treated?
Treatment of hemiplegia aims at treating the underlying cause and offering rehabilitation therapy. Rehabilitation aims to increase your lost strength and movements. A physical therapist (or physiotherapist) and occupational therapist play a vital role in rehabilitation.
- Modified constraint-induced therapy (mCIT). It forces you to use the affected part of your body through repetitive task practice.
- Electrical stimulation. Small electrical pads are placed on the weakened muscles of your affected body part.
- Cortical stimulation. Electrodes are placed on the surface of the brain. The electrodes send an electrical current to your brain while you perform exercises.
- Exercises. Your physiotherapist will help you manually to do the exercises. These exercises need to be repeated several times during the day with the help of someone else (such as your family member or caretaker). Exercises ensure that the affected parts get used daily and do not suffer from muscle thinning (disuse atrophy).
- Mental imagery. You will be imagining yourself moving the affected part normally as before the hemiplegia or hemiparesis. This method stimulates the associated centers in the brain.
- Assistive devices. Your physiotherapist will recommend you using assistive devices to help you walk and gain strength. These include braces, canes, and walkers.
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What are the complications of hemiparesis and hemiplegia?
Hemiparesis and hemiplegia affect your ability to move as well as other functions of the body. The possible complications include:
- Muscle atrophy (thinning of muscle due to its less use)
- Muscle spasticity (muscle stiffness)
- Bowel incontinence (inability to control bowel movements)
- Urinary Incontinence (loss of bladder control, resulting in an inability to hold urine)
- Difficulty breathing
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