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What are paraplegia and quadriplegia? — Paraplegia is the medical term for when people can't move their legs, but can move their arms. Quadriplegia is the term doctors use when people can't move their arms or legs.
The most common cause of paraplegia and quadriplegia is an injury to the spinal cord. The spinal cord is the bundle of nerves that runs down a person's back (figure 1). Certain nerve disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, can also cause paraplegia and quadriplegia.
What other symptoms can people with paraplegia or quadriplegia have? — Besides being unable to move part of their body, people might also have:
No feeling in the arms or legs
No control over their bladder or bowels
Trouble breathing – This can happen only with quadriplegia.
Sex problems, including trouble getting an erection or ejaculating
Will I need tests? — Yes. People with paraplegia or quadriplegia have tests to see what's causing their condition and how serious their condition is. Different tests can include:
Imaging tests, such as a CT or MRI scan – Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of the body.
Nerve tests to check whether the nerves are working normally
How are paraplegia and quadriplegia treated? — Treatment for paraplegia and quadriplegia involves treatment right after the spinal cord injury plus long-term treatment.
Right after a spinal cord injury, people are treated in the hospital. There, the doctor can monitor them and treat the medical problems that happen. For instance, people who are having a very hard time breathing usually need a breathing tube. A breathing tube is a tube that goes down the throat and into the lungs. The other end is attached to a machine that helps with breathing.
Some people with a spinal cord injury are treated with:
Medicines called steroids – These are not the same as the steroids some athletes take illegally. These steroids help reduce swelling in the spinal cord.
Surgery to fix the back bones (vertebrae), if they got pushed out of position
Long-term treatment involves different parts. The main part is called "rehabilitation," or "rehab" for short. Rehabilitation is the care people get after an injury. In rehabilitation, doctors, nurses, and other health professionals will teach you how to be as independent as possible and stay as healthy as possible. This includes learning how to:
Use a wheelchair
Manage your bladder and bowel, if you have no control over your bladder or bowel
Exercise, so that you can regain as much movement in your arms or legs as possible
Cope with feelings of sadness or anger
Another big part of long-term treatment is helping prevent problems that commonly happen in people with paraplegia or quadriplegia. These include:
Urinary tract infections and kidney problems
Pressure sores, which are areas of damage to the skin and tissue under the skin caused by pressure
Lung infections and breathing problems
Osteoporosis, which is a disease that makes your bones weak
Muscle and joint stiffness
Your doctor or nurse will show you ways to prevent and manage these problems.
What will my life be like with paraplegia or quadriplegia? — Most people with paraplegia or quadriplegia lead a full life. Many people are able to work, drive, have serious relationships, and have children. Some people even regain some movement or feeling in their arms or legs.
Many people with paraplegia or quadriplegia worry about whether they will be able to have sex. Problems with sex are common, but there are medicines and devices that can often help.
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 30, 2020.
Topic 17207 Version 6.0
Release: 28.2.2 - C28.105
© 2020 UpToDate, Inc. and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

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