Common Causes of Paralysis

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A new study shows 40 percent more Americans live with paralysis and five times more people are living with a spinal-cord injury.


The survey released Tuesday, involving over 33,000 households, showed that 1.275 million people have had a spinal cord injury and over 5.6 million Americans live with some form of paralysis. The highest previous estimates were 250,000 and roughly four million, respectively. Source:

Paralysis is a medical condition characterized by the inability to move one or more muscles. In most cases, a person experiencing paralysis also loses all feeling in the affected area. Paralysis may be temporary, depending on the cause. If it is the result of damage to the nervous system, it is usually consistent

Paralysis occurs when communication between the brain and spinal cord fails. This can result from injury to neurons in the brain (a stroke), or in the spinal cord. Trauma to the spinal cord affects only the areas below the level of injury. On the other hand, poliomyelitis (a viral infection) or Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) can affect neurons in the entire spinal cord.

There are many potential causes of paralysis. The two most common causes of paralysis in the United States are stroke and trauma, particularly to the nervous system or the brain. Certain diseases or afflictions, such as poliomyelitis, peroneal dystrophy, spina bifida, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Bell’s palsy, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and multiple sclerosis may also cause paralysis to occur

The precise type of paralysis a person experiences depends on the underlying cause. With Bell’s palsy, for example, the paralysis is usually localized, which means it only affects a small area of the person’s body. Typically, only one side of the person’s face becomes paralyzed as the facial nerve on that side becomes inflamed. When only one side of a person’s body is affected, paralysis is considered unilateral. When it affects both sides, it is bilateral.

A person who has experienced a stroke, on the other hand, may experience weakness throughout his or her body. This is referred to as global paralysis. Conversely, the person may only experience weakness on one side of his or her body. Medically, this is known as hemiplegia.

Generally, the most severe form of paralysis is caused by damage to the spinal cord. A person who experiences trauma in his or her upper spinal cord may develop quadriplegia as a result. A person who is quadriplegic is unable to move his or her arms and legs. Injury to the lower spinal cord may cause paraplegia, which results in either the legs or the arms becoming paralyzed.

In severe cases of paralysis, it may be necessary for the individual to be fed through feeding tubes. Occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy may also be necessary to help treat paralysis.  Read more: