Quadriplegia

Is partial or complete paralysis of both arms and legs as a result of injury to the brain or the spinal cord in the cervical region. Quadriplegia may be the result of a motor vehicle accident, a sports injury, violence such as a stab wound or a gunshot, polio, Guillain Barre Syndrome, multiple sclerosis, cancers of the brain and spine as well as others.

The severity and site of the lesion will determine the severity of the symptoms. When the injury results in a completely severed spinal cord this will lead to full loss of function below the level of the injury. In contrast patients with partial injury or contusion will experience partial loss of functions and paralysis. In some people with quadriplegia they can move their arms but can’t move their hands or they can move their legs but not their feet.

Loss of function or the presence of function may not be symmetrical on both sides and some patients may have control over their bowl, bladder and sexual function but lose function of both arms and legs.

Consequences of quadriplegia

  • Patients with quadriplegia will have variable degree of loss of bladder and bowl control; as a result infection of the urinary tract and constipation can happen if these issues are not managed properly.
  • As a result of reduced mobility or immobility, patients with quadriplegia are at high risk of pressure sore which can become infected. As a result of immobility patients are also susceptible to stiff joints and muscle spasm.
  • Quadriplegic patients may feel abnormal sensations such as tingling, burning and numbness.
  • Increased risk of respiratory infections and ventilator dependency.
  • Increased risk of deep venous thrombosis.
  • Autonomic dysreflexia: a medical condition which can be fatal that leads to a sudden increase of blood pressure, excessive sweating, severe head ache, nasal stiffness, flushing of the skin above the level of the lesion, bradycardia, facial erythema, goose bumps and irrational feeling of doom and anxiety, it happens due to over stimulation of the autonomic nervous system usually due to a spinal cord injury above the middle of the chest (above the sixth thoracic spine). Full bladder and irritating clothes may trigger the reflex.

Investigations

Investigations may include X–ray, CT scan and MRI. These are done on an emergency basis if there are signs of neurological damage, weakness, neck pain and change in the level of consciousness.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the extent and severity of injury and on the specific needs of each patient. The focus of the treatment is to prevent further injury and to enable the patient to participate in a productive life and manage activities of daily living as much as possible as well as alleviating discomfort symptoms.

This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice; it should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Call 911 for all medical emergencies.