What is Hemiplegia?

Hemiplegia is the medical term for one entire half of the body becoming paralyzed. This can happen for a variety of reasons but all of them involve brain damage in some way. The most common causes of hemiplegia are stroke, injury to the head or brain, cancer of the brain, infection of the brain, and damage to the brain of a baby during birth.

However, many children with hemiplegia have no known causes for their condition, known as congenital hemiplegia. Despite the name, genes have never been proven to cause hemiplegia. These children are just born with the condition. Premature babies are more prone to developing it than full-term babies. Hemiplegia can happen to anyone because brain damage can happen to anyone.

What are the Symptoms of Hemiplegia?

Symptoms of hemiplegia depend upon what kind of brain damage occurred.

Symptoms include

Children with congenital hemiplegia will begin symptoms before they are two years old. No matter what the cause, the most common symptom is that one entire side of the body is difficult or impossible to move. Coupled with hemiplegia is hemiparesis, which means muscle weakness on one side of the body. Since the paralyzed side cannot move like the normal side, the muscles on the paralyzed side tend to atrophy or shrink.

Other problems that often accompany hemiplegia are speech problems, visual problems in the eye on the affected side, seizures, behavioral problems and taking longer than usual to reach developmental milestones like walking.

Hemiplegia Causes

Hemiplegia is a medical issue caused by brain damage that might have occurred during the birthing process, which is known as congenital hemiplegia, or post birth in which case it is called simply hemiplegia. The cause of congenital hemiplegia is unknown but regular hemiplegia is commonly caused by medical issues like strokes, where the blood flow to the brain is insufficient and brain function is compromised. Strokes are commonly caused by a clot forming inside a blood vessel in the brain that limits blood supply, otherwise known as a thrombus. Hemiplegia can develop as a result of a childhood stroke; however, the condition may only become evident once the infant gets older, in the form of an occurrence like an issue with coordination and walking. In some cases of hemiplegia, injuries to the right side of a person’s brain can cause the left region of a person’s body to become paralyzed and vice versa. Hemiplegia can affect any child, but it is slightly more common in premature babies. Also, the condition is common enough as it affects one in one thousand births.

How is Hemiplegia Treated?

There is no cure for hemiplegia. There are no medicines available to treat hemiplegia. Any treatment plan depends on the cause of hemiplegia. There are as many different hemiplegia treatment plans as there are hemiplegia patients.

Treatment includes

Many hemiplegia patients need specialized therapists to help them cope with everyday activities. Speech therapists help with communication problems. Physical therapists help keep the paralyzed side exercised so it does not completely atrophy. Occupational therapists help teach the patient how to dress, wash, eat and do other common activities.

Hemiplegia Prevention

There are some known triggers for hemiplegia that should be avoided:

  • Emotional stresses
  • Being exposed to hot and cold temperatures
  • Respiratory system infections
  • Fatigue
  • Bathing

Targeting the specific triggers and finding ways of avoiding them will help to prevent long-term sequelae which usually develop. Flunarizine, which is a calcium channel blocker, is effective and used widely, though it only rarely prevents episodes altogether. However, it does seem able to limit the severity of hemiplegia episodes and the duration of those episodes. Though hemiplegia is a result of the effects of cerebral palsy and is nonprogressive and consequently does not deteriorate as patients grow older, conditions like alternating hemiplegia can have potentially serious consequences when children have repeated attacks.

Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
January 10, 2018