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Flaccid Paralysis: Definition, Symptoms & Causes

Flaccid Paralysis: Definition, Symptoms & Causes
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  • 0:02 What Is Flaccid Paralysis?
  • 1:06 Causes of Flaccid Paralysis
  • 2:51 Treatment of Flaccid Paralysis
  • 3:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb
This lesson is on flaccid paralysis, which is a condition in which muscles no longer contract. In this lesson, we will further explore what flaccid paralysis is, what causes it, and how to treat it.

What is Flaccid Paralysis?

Muscles aren't just for looking good at the beach! They control all our movements, even those we don't actively think about, like breathing. Your brain communicates with your muscles to cause you to move. If for some reason this connection is broken, your muscles can't contract and you can't move. When your muscles no longer can make you move, this is called paralysis. Flaccid paralysis is a specific type of paralysis where your muscles cannot contract at all. This can cause serious problems, since breathing is controlled by the muscle in your diaphragm. Imagine if all your muscles turn to jello - you would flop over like a jellyfish! This is, essentially, what happens during flaccid paralysis.

If your muscles feel weak or you can no longer move parts of your body, you might be experiencing flaccid paralysis. You might lose motor control of one limb, both, or the entire body. Eventually, loss of muscle tone occurs, in which muscle becomes weak and starts to atrophy. It's like your muscles start to wither away, similar to a plant that is left un-watered.

Causes of Flaccid Paralysis

Flaccid paralysis can be caused by infections and toxins or damage to the spinal cord or brain. Polio, botulism, and curare are examples of this type of damage. All of these problems cause flaccid paralysis by preventing messages in the brain from getting to the muscle.

Imagine a factory. The factory workers keep doing what they need to because they have instructions from the boss. If the communication with the boss was cut off, they would eventually stop working. The boss is like the brain, and the workers are like the muscle.

The first cause of flaccid paralysis is polio, which is a contagious virus. There is no cure for polio, but most people are vaccinated, so it is no longer common. Botulism is a toxin produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. It prevents the messages coming from the brain from reaching the muscle, so the muscle cannot contract. Botulinum can be caught from eating canned food that is not properly sterilized.

Curare is a rare toxin found in the Amazon rainforest. Native tribes collect the toxin from plants and use it on the tips of hunting arrows. Curare also causes the signals from the brain to no longer be sent to the muscle, preventing muscle contraction.

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