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Paralysis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Paralysis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Paralysis is a loss of strength and control over a muscle or a group of muscles. You may not always suffer from this condition due to a problem with muscles. You may also suffer from this condition due to issues somewhere along the nerve cells chain that connects your brain, back, and other body parts. These nerve cells transfer the signals for your muscles to move.

Types and degrees of paralysis

There are many types and degrees of paralysis such as:

  • Partial: Sometimes called paresis, in this condition you will have some control over your muscles.
  • Flaccid: In a flaccid state, your muscles can shrink and become flabby.
  • Temporary: In this condition, you lose control of some or all muscles for a short period.
  • Spastic: In spastic condition, your muscles can get tight, hard, and jerk around oddly.
  • Complete: In this condition, you cannot move your muscles at all.
  • Permanent: In this condition, you lose control over your muscles permanently.

Paralysis can occur in any part of your body. It can be either localised – that affects only one part of the body or generalised – that affects a wider area of the body.

Often, localised paralysis affects your vocal cords, face, feet, and hands. Whereas, generalised paralysis is divided based on how much of the body is paralysed.

  • Hemiplegia: It affects one side of your body like the arm or leg of the same side of the body.
  • Paraplegia: It affects both your legs and sometimes parts of the trunk.
  • Monoplegia: It affects your one limb like one leg or one arm.
  • Diplegia: It affects the same area of both sides of your body like both arms or both sides of the face.
  • Quadriplegia: It affects both your arms and legs. Sometimes it affects the entire area from your neck down. This can affect the functions of your heart, lungs, and other body organs.

The main symptom of paralysis that you may experience is the inability to move your body, not even able to move a muscle.

It can start gradually or suddenly, sometimes it can come and go.

Most commonly, paralysis can affect the following body parts:

  • One arm or leg
  • The face
  • One side of the body
  • The hands
  • Both legs
  • Both arms and legs

The affected area of the body may also be:

  • Tingly, numb, or painful
  • Stiff
  • Floppy
  • Cold

Below are the different causes of paralysis that you must know:

Traumatic causes

  • Electrical injury
  • Herniated vertebral disk
  • Broken or severed spinal cord
  • Direct trauma to a nerve like a fracture, or dislocation with nerve damage, gunshot or stab wound, and brachial plexus injury

Environmental causes of paralysis

  • Poisons, such as botulinum or snake venom
  • Radiation
  • Toxins such as mercury, lead, or arsenic

Autoimmune or infectious causes

  • Lyme disease – An inflammatory bacterial disease caused due to ticks
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – A chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of joints
  • Spondylitis – An infection or inflammation of the spinal joints
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome – An autoimmune nerve disorder

Neurological causes

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s disease – It is a severe neuromuscular disease that results in muscle weakness and disability
  • Multiple sclerosis – A disease that affects your brain and spinal cord causing difficulties in balance and coordination, body weakness, and other health issues
  • Muscular dystrophy – It is an inherited disorder that causes a progressive loss of muscle tissue and muscle weakness
  • Bell’s palsy – It is caused by a swollen or inflamed nerve that controls your facial muscles
  • Peripheral neuropathy – It is a disorder that damages your nerves that lie outside the brain and spinal cord
  • Cerebral palsy – Learn more in the article below.

Serious or life-threatening causes of paralysis

In some cases, you may experience paralysis due to serious and life-threatening health conditions. Ensure you get medical help immediately as it is a medical emergency. Health conditions include:

  • Head trauma
  • Brain hemorrhage
  • Stroke
  • Brain tumor
  • Transient ischemic attack – Temporary stroke-like symptoms that may be an indication of a stroke


Both men and women of all ages are at risk of getting a paralysis attack.

As paralysis can affect any one or more body muscles, it can affect many body functions. Problems that you may experience due to this condition include:

  • Sexual issues
  • Skin injuries
  • Changes in muscles, joints, and bones
  • Issues with heart rate, blood circulation, and breathing
  • Loss of bowel control and urination
  • Blood clots in the legs
  • Mood swings and behavioural changes
  • Problems speaking or swallowing


It is easy to diagnose paralysis as you lose control over your muscles of a certain body part. When you are taken to the hospital, the doctor takes a physical examination to find the cause of this condition.

Your doctor may not take a physical examination if it occurs after events like spinal cord injury or a stroke.

To understand your condition in detail your doctor may order a few tests. These tests can help your doctor to know the cause for your condition, the degree of paralysis, and other factors. Your doctor may order the following tests:

  • MRI: For an MRI, the professional uses radio waves, a large magnet, and a computer. Together, they create clear images of your body.
  • CT scan: The doctor uses rotating X-ray machine to take images from different angles of a body part. This helps your doctor to look at a particular body area properly.
  • X-ray: In this imaging test, your doctor will use a small amount of radiation to create detailed images of the dense structures like the bones.
  • Spinal tap: For this test, the doctor injects a long needle into your spine to draw spinal fluid and test it.
  • Electromyography (EMG): In this test, the doctor measures the electrical activity in your muscles and nerves.
  • Myelography: For this test, the doctor uses a contrast dye and injects it into your spinal canal, helping your nerves to show up clearly on a CT scan, MRI, or X-ray.


Your doctor will suggest treatment and medication depending on your condition. Ensure you follow the treatment for paralysis strictly to improve the quality of life.

Your doctor will suggest treatment based on its causes.

Doctors may suggest the following treatments for paralysed patients:

  • Medicines: Your doctor will prescribe certain drugs to relieve symptoms like muscle spasms, pain, and stiffness.
  • Mobility equipment: Mobility equipment includes limb support, walkers, canes, manual and electrical wheelchairs.
  • Occupational therapy: This therapy helps you to perform simple activities.
  • Physiotherapy: This helps you to maintain your body strength and muscle mass.
  • Physical therapy: This therapy includes simple exercises, massages, and heat compression. Physical therapy can help improve your muscle and nerve functions.

Apart from these treatment options, your doctor may give other treatment suggestions suitable for your particular condition.

Lifestyle Changes and Home Remedies

As you can experience paralysis for numerous reasons, the best way to avoid paralysis or any other health condition is by keeping yourself fit.

Ensure you work out regularly to maintain proper body weight, improve and strengthen your overall physique.

You can also improve your physique by adopting a healthy diet instead of poor and unhealthy diets. Include vegetables and other food items that are rich in vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and other nutrients.

Overall, try to keep yourself healthy and fit to prevent health conditions that can further cause paralysis.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


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Paralysis/https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15345-paralysis/Accessed on June 16, 2021

Causes of paralysis/https://www.christopherreeve.org/living-with-paralysis/health/causes-of-paralysis/Accessed on June 16, 2021

Paralysis/https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/paralysis/ Accessed on June 16, 2021

Paralysis: Diagnosis and Tests/https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15345-paralysis/diagnosis-and-tests/Accessed on June 16, 2021

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Written by Nikita Bhalla Updated Jun 16, 2021
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel