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Alternate Names

  • hemiparalysis
  • Brain and spinal cord


Hemiplegia is a condition in which there is paralysis on one side of the body. This paralysis may affect part of the body, such as one arm or leg, or the whole side of the body.

What is going on in the body?

Hemiplegia occurs when there is a disruption of blood flow to the brain, causing a part of the brain to die. Messages that usually tell the body when and how to function are interrupted. Because nerve pathways from the brain cross sides as they travel to the body, paralysis in the body occurs in the side opposite of the affected part of the brain. For instance, if the right side of the brain is affected, the left side of the body becomes paralyzed.
A few types of hemiplegia include:
  • capsular, which is caused from an lesion on part of the internal capsule of the brain
  • cerebral, which is caused by a brain lesion
  • facial, which is paralysis on one side of the face
  • spastic, which is paralysis and spastic or stiff, unusual movements of the body, occurring more often in infants
  • spinal, which is associated with lesions on the spine


What are the causes and risks of the condition?

Hemiplegia is caused by a disruption in the blood flow to part of the brain. This may be due to a stroke, a brain tumor, or excessive bleeding from a head injury. A person with diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol is at higher risk for a stroke. Other factors that increase the risk of a stroke include obesity, smoking, leading a sedentary lifestyle, and drinking too much alcohol.


What can be done to prevent the condition?

Prevention of hemiplegia is related to the underlying cause. Losing weight if needed, drinking less alcohol, not smoking, and exercising, may decrease the risk of hemiplegia. Following sports safety guidelines for children, adolescents, and adults can decrease the risk of hemiplegia due to injury.


How is the condition diagnosed?

The healthcare professional will do a complete medical history and physical exam. He or she may order a number of tests, including:
  • blood tests
  • a cranial CT scan or cranial MRI
  • an electrocephalogram (EEG), to measure the activity of the brain

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

Long-term effects of hemiplegia will depend on the cause and extent of the paralysis. The person may need extended care in a nursing home or rehabilitation unit. Muscle deterioration may take place. Injuries may also occur from decreased feeling and decreased control over movement.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

Hemiplegia is not contagious, and poses no risk to others.


What are the treatments for the condition?

Treatment is directed at the underlying cause of the paralysis, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Anticoagulants or blood thinners may be used to treat blood clots. In some cases, surgery may be needed to remove a tumor or blood clot around the brain.
The goal of treatment is to help a person reach his or her fullest potential for independence and functioning. This may involve physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. Learning or relearning how to care for oneself, speak, and write may be part of therapy. The potential for recovery depends on the extent of the paralysis.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Side effects will depend on the treatment used. Medications can cause many side effects including stomach upset, rash, or allergic reactions. Surgery may pose a risk of bleeding, infection, or allergic reaction to anesthesia.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

Treatment may need to be lifelong, depending on the extent of the hemiplegia and its underlying cause. Careful monitoring, following through with therapy and treatment, and seeking medical help as needed is the best way to help the person be as independent as possible.


How is the condition monitored?

Any new or unusual symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.


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Taber's cylcopedic Medical Dictionary, F.A. Davis, 1993

Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, Fauci, 1998

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