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What Is Hemiplegia? - Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

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  • 0:02 What Is hemiplegia?
  • 0:50 Causes
  • 1:25 Symptoms
  • 2:33 Treatment
  • 3:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Hemiplegia is a condition where half of the body is paralyzed due to damage to the parts of the brain responsible for movement. Complete this lesson to learn more about hemiplegia, its symptoms, and the possible treatment options.

What Is Hemiplegia?

Hemiplegia is a condition that causes half of the body to be paralyzed (or unable to move). It may also be referred to as hemiparesis and is a form of cerebral palsy. It's caused by damage to one half of the brain; specifically, when that damage affects the parts of the brain responsible for motor movements. The half of the body affected depends on which half of the brain has been damaged.

There are two types of hemiplegia. Congenital hemiplegia is present from birth or happens shortly after. Acquired hemiplegia results from brain damage that occurs later in life, either due to illness or injury. The way the brain is set up, damage to the left hemisphere usually results in right hemiplegia, and damage to the right hemisphere results in left hemiplegia.

Causes of Hemiplegia

Acquired hemiplegia is easier to identify because it tends to happen later in life, as a result of illness or injury. With congenital hemiplegia, it's harder to pinpoint a cause because it happens either before or shortly after birth, often without warning or obvious immediate signs. It's believed that the chances of hemiplegia increase in premature (or early) babies and in cases of multiple births (like twins or triplets). Damage can occur during pregnancy or during delivery. Additionally, the skull is incompletely fused at birth, increasing the chances of brain injury early in life.

Symptoms of Hemiplegia

Generally, complete paralysis exists on one side of the body as a result of hemiplegia; however, symptoms might vary from person to person based on their individual case. Generally speaking, symptoms may include:

  • Muscle stiffness or weakness on one half of the body
  • Favoring one side of the body
  • Keeping one hand fisted
  • Difficulty balancing and walking
  • Lack of fine motor skills
  • Developmental delays, especially with motor skills

Hemiplegia results from a brain injury, and brain injuries display a variety of symptoms throughout the body. In addition to weakness or paralysis, brain injuries have the capability of affecting memory, speech, concentration, behavior, social communication, attention, sensory effects (like vision), and incidence of seizures.

If hemiplegia occurs in childhood, physical differences may become apparent as the child grows. These can include the appearance of shorter limbs on the affected side as well as muscle atrophy due to lack of use. The limbs are not actually physically shorter, they just appear so because the muscles may be contracted (shortened) on the paralyzed side.

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