A Parent’s Quick Guide to Hemiplegia and Hemiparesis

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Reserved little girl sitting on the wheelchairIf your child has been diagnosed with hemiplegia or hemiparesis, you probably have concerns and questions about how this condition will affect your child’s life both in the present and the future. Hemiplegia and hemiparesis affect children differently depending on the cause and severity of the neurological disorder.

One in every 1,000 children has some type of hemiparesis or hemiplegia, so the condition is well-known and relatively common. There are a variety of treatments available for hemiplegia and hemiparesis. Below are more facts about these conditions to help you understand the symptoms and treatment options available to your child.

The Difference Between Hemiplegia and Hemiparesis

“Hemi” is the Greek root word meaning “half.” In hemiplegia and hemiparesis, half of the body is impaired by the condition. On the affected side of the body, the signals to and from the brain are not being sent or received properly.

“Hemiplegia” is partial or complete paralysis of one side of the body. The affected side may be rigid so that the child cannot move that side of the body at all. The child may have a very difficult time swallowing and maintaining bladder control. Shortness of breath, an inability to speak, and a clenched fist on the affected side of the body are also common symptoms of hemiplegia.

“Hemiparesis” is a weakness on one side of the body or the other. The child may report feeling strange sensations including tingling on their affected side. The child may find it difficult to lift their arm on that side of the body and may have a hard time trying to stand up.

The Difference Between Congenital and 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, there is an injury or injuries that occur to the 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 certain why many cases of congenital hemiplegia and hemiparesis occur. However, experts suspect that premature birth, very difficult births, and marriage between close relatives are three potential risk factors for developing the 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 inability to focus the eyes.

The Future for Children with Hemiplegia and Hemiparesis

Your child’s condition may improve or worsen over time. It’s impossible for your doctor or any expert to predict with accuracy how much the hemiplegia or hemiparesis will affect your child over the long term. Some children experience only slight weakness and impairment and lead mostly “normal” lives. In some cases, the 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 a harder time adapting to daily tasks and activities. However, many children with moderate to severe hemiplegia and hemiparesis are able to attend mainstream schools.

When the child and family are committed to working on improving the symptoms of hemiplegia and hemiparesis, treatment is often very effective. There are various ways to reduce the child’s symptoms and help develop better control over motor skills.

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 cause the hemiplegia or hemiparesis, your child may need physical and occupational therapy. Hand play is one way that 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 child 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 the hemiplegia or hemiparesis.

Special eyewear and other sensory aids may be prescribed to help your child function more easily in day-to-day life. Psychological counseling is often recommended to help children deal with the effects of their hemiplegia and hemiparesis.

Contact NeuroHealth Arlington Heights today to learn more about testing and counseling for children with hemiplegia, hemiparesis, and any other neurological disorder. We work with your child’s health care team to assess the condition and promote safe treatment options.