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Definition: paralysis from Collins English Dictionary

n pl -ses (-ˌsiːz)

1 pathol a impairment or loss of voluntary muscle function or of sensation (sensory paralysis) in a part or area of the body, usually caused by a lesion or disorder of the muscles or the nerves supplying them b a disease characterized by such impairment or loss; palsy

2 cessation or impairment of activity: paralysis of industry by strikes

[C16: via Latin from Greek paralusis; see para-1, -lysis]

Summary Article: Paralysis
From Encyclopedia of Global Health

Paralysis is an illness in which a person loses the ability to sense or move. When a nerve fails to send its impulses to a muscle, the muscular activity begins to atrophy. As a result of this miscommunication at the neuromuscular junction in a patient’s body, he or she ultimately may loose his or her movement and sensation functions. Paralysis can be characterized in different types.

Paralysis can occur suddenly or over time as it spreads. Stroke or trauma is the most frequent cause of a sudden paralysis. Accidents that lead to spinal cord injuries give rise to a serious and an irreversible form of paralysis.

For example, it can be temporary or permanent, partial or complete, widespread or localized. Moreover, paralysis can occur suddenly or over time as it spreads. Stroke or trauma is the most frequent cause of a sudden paralysis.

Accidents that lead to spinal cord injuries give rise to serious and an irreversible form of paralysis. Paraplegia, hemiplegia, hemiparesis, quadriplegia, and stroke are some examples of different categories of paralysis.


Paraplegia is known as the paralysis of the legs as it affects the patient’s lower extremities. It usually originates from the lower spinal cord injury. A person typically becomes paraplegic due to a broken back from an accident or by having congenital diseases that is passed on. Spina bifida and polyneuropathy are examples of commonly seen congenital disorders that are associated with a paraplegic condition. A tumor might also result in this type of paralysis.

The good news is that there is a possibility for the nerves to be back in action if the spinal cord is not severely affected. However, chances become low as more time passes with no sensation felt in the lower part of a patient’s body.

Other symptoms in addition to paralysis include problems with bladder and bowel control, limp arm and leg muscles, sexual dysfunction, difficulty breathing, numbness, tingling, and pain. A paraplegic patient may also experience difficulty in conducting central nervous system activities such as speech, vision, or balance.

Physicians diagnose paraplegia through a physical examination. Additional procedures such as a blood test, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scan, or an X-ray may also be ordered to confirm the diagnosis. Also, each paraplegia case is different depending on where on the spinal cord the injury has occurred. Hence, each case will also have a different strategy for diagnosis and treatment. The physician dealing with a paraplegic patient would usually aim to stabilize the injured spine by restoring proper alignment and expanding the affected nerves.

To do so, a patient is often assigned to a rehabilitation program that provides occupational and physical therapy. Additional specialty treatment may also be assigned depending on the severity of the case. A physician may offer to consult a speech therapist, a respiratory therapist, or a psychiatrist to provide a treatment plan for better recovery.


A stroke strikes when blood flow in the brain either leaks out or is interrupted. This results in diminished nutrient and oxygen supply reaching the brain tissue, which in turn lowers the physical or mental functional activity of the brain. Additionally, strokes can be hemorrhagic, arising from a ruptured blood vessel or a leaking artery. Ischemic strokes are those that occur due to a blocked artery. It is a life-threatening condition that needs emergency medical attention. Strokes can often lead to weakness and paralysis on the opposite side of the damaged brain.

Other symptoms include numbness or weakness in the face or legs, headache, difficulty speaking or understanding speech, confusion, tingling, memory loss, personality changes, depression, decreased sensation, loss of balance and orientation, and vision problems. Currently, there is no cure for stroke. A physician’s focus would remain on controlling the symptoms and increase the physical and mental functional ability of the patient.

Other forms of paralysis include:

  • Quadriplegia is paralysis caused by spinal cord injury that affects both the upper and lower parts of the body.

  • Hemiplegia is paralysis of one side of the body, often caused after serious brain damage such as a stroke.

  • Weakness on one side of body with incomplete paralysis is known as hemiparesis. This also happens as an after effect of a stroke.

  • Partial paralysis of a body part occasionally associated with involuntary tremors gives rise to a condition known as palsy.

  • Bladder Diseases; Spinal Cord Injuries; Stroke.

  • American Medical Association Family Medical Guide, 4th ed. (Wiley, 2004).
  • Martins S. Lipsky, ed., American Medical Association: Concise Medical Encyclopedia (Random House Reference, 2007).
  • Jinal Mehta
    Independent Scholar
    Copyright © 2008 by SAGE Publications, Inc.