Hemiplegia vs. Hemiparesis: What’s the Difference?

1 in 1,000 children suffers from hemiplegia or hemiparesis. This figure comes out to over 70,000 children in the United States alone. If you believe your child suffers from one of these conditions, you’ll need to identify the relevant symptoms, compare hemiparesis vs. hemiplegia to pinpoint the exact condition, and seek treatment options immediately. NeuroHealth in Arlington Heights, IL, has served patients and their families for over 25 years. Our knowledgeable and experienced staff can help you get a proper diagnosis and get your child on the path to recovery in no time.

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What is Hemiplegia?

Reserved little girl with hemiplagia sitting on wheelchair
Hemiplegia is partial or complete paralysis of one side of the body caused by brain damage or a spinal cord injury. The affected side may be rigid so that the child cannot move that side of the body at all. The child may have a tough time swallowing and maintaining bladder control.

Symptoms of Hemiplegia

Symptoms of hemiplegia can vary from case to case but often include:

  • muscle weakness or stiffness on one side
  • muscle spasms or persistent contracted muscles
  • shortness of breath
  • inability to speak
  • difficulty swallowing
  • difficulty controlling bowel or bladder
  • a clenched fist on the affected side of the body
  • trouble with balance and walking
  • trouble with fine motor skills

What is Hemiparesis?

Hemiparesis is a weakness on, or inability to move, one side of the body and can affect the arms, hands, chest, legs, feet, or face. While stroke is the most common cause of hemiparesis, other causes can include brain tumors, brain damage resulting from a traumatic brain injury, and certain diseases such as cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis. With hemiparesis, the affected person may feel strange sensations – including tingling – on the affected side. They may also find it difficult to lift their arm on the affected side and may have difficulty standing up.

Symptoms of Hemiparesis

While the symptoms of hemiparesis can range, some of the most common symptoms include:

  • lack of coordination
  • impaired bladder control
  • impaired swallowing ability
  • difficulty with balance and walking
  • trouble grasping objects
  • strain on the unaffected side due to overcompensation
  • difficulty standing
  • a tingling or numbing sensation on the affected side

Hemiplegia vs. Hemiparesis: What are the Differences?

“Hemi” is the Greek root word meaning “half.” In hemiplegia and hemiparesis, half of the body is impaired by the condition. The signals to and from the brain are not being sent or received correctly on the affected side of the body. In other words, both conditions are central nervous system injuries.

But what are the differences between hemiplegia and hemiparesis? As mentioned, hemiplegia is paralysis on one side of the body or the other, while hemiparesis is weakness on one side of the body or the other.

Congenital vs Acquired Hemiparesis and Hemiplegia

About 20% of hemiplegia and hemiparesis cases are considered “acquired” because the patient suffered an injury to the brain via an accident or other physical condition. Some of the causes of acquired hemiplegia and hemiparesis are:

  • Stroke
  • Meningitis or encephalitis
  • Traumatic head injury
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Tumor or lesions in the brain
  • Psychological conditions

The other 80% of cases of hemiplegia and hemiparesis are congenital. In congenital cases, an injury or injuries affects parts of the brain that control body movements. These injuries may occur when the child is in utero, during a difficult birth, or up to two years after birth.

Researchers aren’t sure why many cases of congenital hemiplegia and hemiparesis occur. However, experts suspect premature birth, complicated births, and marriage between close relatives are three potential risk factors for developing congenital conditions.

Another congenital type of hemiplegia is called alternating hemiplegia of childhood (AHC). Children with this condition have attacks of hemiplegia or hemiparesis on alternating sides of the body. They may also have episodes of all-over body weakness and an inability to focus their eyes.

The Future for Children with Hemiplegia and Hemiparesis

Your child’s condition may improve or worsen over time. Your doctor or an expert can’t predict with accuracy how much the hemiplegia or hemiparesis will affect your child over the long term. Some children experience slight weakness and impairment and lead mostly “normal” lives. In some cases, hemiplegia or hemiparesis resolves itself.

Some children may have a severe motor impairment and be confined to a wheelchair or another support device. These children may have more difficulty adapting to daily tasks and activities. However, many children with moderate to severe hemiplegia and hemiparesis can attend mainstream schools.

Treatment is often very effective when the child and family are committed to improving the symptoms of hemiplegia and hemiparesis. There are various ways to reduce the child’s symptoms and help develop control over motor skills.

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The Treatments Available for Hemiplegia and Hemiparesis

Your child’s health care team will treat the hemiplegia or hemiparesis with a multidisciplinary approach. The first task is to determine the issue or issues that caused the condition to develop in the first place. If there is a reversible condition causing the paralysis or weakness, treating that issue may solve the problem.

If a stroke or other irreversible injury causes the hemiplegia or hemiparesis, your child may need physical and occupational therapy. Hand play is one-way therapists help children reduce rigidity and increase control of the fingers and hand. Parents may be taught how to supervise hand play and other mobility exercises to help their children at home.

Your child may need a walker, orthotic device, or crutches to make walking easier. Certain medications may be administered if there are seizures or other neurological problems in addition to hemiplegia or hemiparesis.

Special eyewear and other sensory aids may be prescribed to help your child function more efficiently in day-to-day life. Additionally, psychological counseling is often recommended to help children deal with the mental health effects and challenges brought on by their hemiplegia or hemiparesis.

Contact NeuroHealth Arlington Heights Today

Contact NeuroHealth Arlington Heights today to receive testing and counseling services and facts about hemiplegia and hemiparesis. At NeuroHealth, we help children and adults suffering from Depression, Anxiety, Autism, Learning Disorders, and much more. We will work with your child’s health care team to assess the condition and promote safe treatment options.

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With more than 25 years of experience diagnosing and treating mental health difficulties, NeuroHealth AH is your trusted expert in neuropsychology. We have a long-standing reputation for providing comprehensive and solution-oriented mental health services in the Chicago area.