Paralysis happens when muscles function in a part of the body fails. The loss is caused when something goes wrong with communication between the muscles and the brain. It can be partial or complete, occurring on both sides of the body, or one side. The most common causes of damages to the nervous system are injuries and stroke.
The Nervous System
The nervous system is a collection of complex nerves and specialized cells. It has two parts; namely, the central nervous system (CNS), consisting of the brain and the spinal cord. And the peripheral nervous system (PNS) includes all the nerves that branch out from the spinal cord, extending to the whole body.
CNS’s main functions are sensory, integration, and motor. It is responsible for the communication among the body parts, and also controls the body. The CNS also evaluates the information and makes decisions. The PNS consists of the sensory organs and sensory nerves. The organs and nerves monitor the inside and outside of the body and transmit the information to the CNS for processing. The brain is responsible for higher functions such as personality, emotions, language, expression, and creativity. It determines who we are as individuals. The spinal cord communicates with the PNS using nerves, that carry signals to the glands, organs, and muscles, regulates their functions, and sends back signals to the CNS.
The majority of the nervous system tissues are composed of two cell classes, neuroglia, and neurons. The neurons communicate by transiting electrochemical signals and look different from other body cells. Small structures that resemble trees, extends from the neurons to pick signals from other cells, or other neurons. Neurons are classified into three: afferent neurons, which transmit sensory signals to the CNS from receptors in the body. Efferent neurons, transmit signals from the CNS to body effectors such as glands and muscles, and interneurons, which form networks, so complex within the CNS, for integrating the information received from afferent neurons, and send or direct functions to the body through efferent neurons. Neuroglia, act as the helper cells of the neurons. They maintain the functionality of the nervous system by feeding, protecting, and insulating the neurons.
The cranial nerves have specific functions within the nervous system. They are 12 in number.
- The Olfactory nerve (CN i), carries scent to the brain, it found in the roof of the nasal cavity.
- The optic nerve (CN ii), carries visual signals from the eye.
- The oculomotor nerve (CN iii) that enables the movement of the eye, also raises and shut the eyelid.
- The trochlear nerve (CN iv), controls the oblique muscle of the eye. information to the skin, sinus, and mucous membranes.
- The trigeminal nerve (CN v), that stimulates jaws muscle movements, and transmits
- The abducens nerve (CN vi) controls the movement of the lateral rectus muscle.
- The facial nerve (CN vii) innervates the facial muscles make expressions
- The vestibulocochlear nerve (CN viii) is responsible for audio and balance signals from the ears to the brain.
- The glossopharyngeal nerve (CN ix) assists in swallowing food and carries taste information.
- The wandering nerve (CN x), or the vagus innervates through the head, torso, and neck. It carries information about the condition of vital organs, delivers parasympathetic signals to many organs, and controls speech.
- The accessory nerve (CN xi) controls the movements of the neck and shoulder.
- The hypoglossal nerve (CN xii) is responsible for moving the tongue for swallowing and speech
Types and Degrees of Paralysis.
In most cases, the paralysis may not result from a failure in the muscles themselves. It is more likely caused by a failure in the chain of the nerve cells, which are found in the whole body. They are responsible for sending signals, to move the muscles. The following are the types and degrees of paralysis.
- Spastic, The muscles become very tight, jerk and hard
- Partial, sometimes called paresis, occurs when some a patient has control over some muscles
- Permanent, when the control of muscles is never recovered
- Complete, when one can not move any muscle at all
- Flaccid, muscles begin to shrink and get flabby
Paralysis can either be localized or generalized. Localized paralysis is when it affects one part of the body, for instance, the face, vocal cords, hands, or feet. It is generalized if the area affected is wider. Classification according to areas affected are;
- Hemiplegia, affects one side of the body, could be the arm and the leg of the same side
- Monoplegia, affects one side only, eg one arm, one leg
- Diplegia is when paralysis affects the same area on both body sides, e.g. the whole face, both hands, or both legs.
- Paraplegia affects both legs
- Quadriplegia, affects both legs, both hands, and may also affect the entire body from the neck down. It may also affect the functions of the lungs, heart, and other organs.
Causes of paralysis.
Movement of the muscle is triggered and controlled by signals relayed from the brain, when any part of the system is damaged, such as the spinal cord, brain, nerves, or the contact between the nerves and the muscle is compromised, the signals do not reach the target muscle or organ, causing paralysis.
Defects in fetus development can also lead to a person being born with paralysis, one of the common defects is spina bifida, it occurs when the spinal cord, the brain, or the covering protection fails to form in the right way. Other common causes are stroke (when blood supply to part of the brain is compromised), spinal cord injury, or head injury. Medical conditions that lead to paralysis include
- Cerebral palsy (a group of disorders, affecting the movement, tone, and posture of the muscle, often caused by the immature brain before birth)
- Multiple sclerosis (the protective sheath of the CNS deteriorates, it is considered an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks its tissue and destroys the myelin)
- Peripheral neuropathy(damages to the outside brain and spinal cord, characterized by weakness, pain, numbness of feet and hands, commonly caused by diabetes and exposure to a toxin)
- Guillain-Barre syndrome (a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves. The condition is commonly triggered by an acute viral or bacterial infection)
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) (A nervous system disease that attacks the muscles and affects physical function. The cause is unknown)
Symptoms of Paralysis.
The signs vary based on the cause; they are easy to spot. In the time of birth, a child born with paralysis is unable to move the affected body part in the early days. A person with stroke or spinal cord injury may experience stiffness of the muscles and may not feel the affected body parts.
In case of the medical causes, the person may start to lose control of the affected body parts. Early signs may include numbness and tingliness sensations, or muscle cramps.
Challenges Associated with Paralysis.
A person suffering from paralysis of muscles, organs, or control of some bodyparts may experience challenges in the following.
- Heart rate, breathing, and blood clots/flow
- Changes in the normal function of the glands, organs, and tissues
- Changes in joints, muscles and bones
- Sexual and reproductive health
- Moods and behavior changes
- Difficult in speech and swallowing
- Loss of bowel and urine control
- Skin injuries and sores.
Diagnosis and Tests.
Diagnosing paralysis is easy, because of the obvious loss of control or feel. It is even easier when paralysis occurs after an event such as an accident. The doctors may want to learn more about the degree of the paralysis, and may use X-rays, CT scans, MRI, Myelography, Electromyography (EMG) or spinal tap.
Treatment and management.
There is no known cure for paralysis. However, in some cases, some or all muscle control returns on its own. Control and feel can also return after treating the cause of the paralysis. Treatment of certain conditions such as multiple sclerosis is essential to prevent the worsening of the paralysis. Some consequences of the paralysis can not be reversed, therefore, rehabilitation is recommended to address the challenges, and help improve the quality of life for the victim. Some of the methods used include physical therapy (stimulation of the nerves and muscles) Occupational therapy (enables the person to continue with their daily routine) mobility aids (wheelchairs), supportive devices (walking sticks, walkers), assistive technology and adaptive equipment.