Tetraplegia refers to paralysis in the upper and lower body. This means that it affects both arms and both legs. It typically occurs due to damage to the spinal cord or brain. People may also call it quadriplegia.

Tetraplegia is one of the most severe forms of paralysis. It affects all four limbs, and in some people, it also affects parts of the chest, abdomen, and back.

There is currently no way to reverse the damage. However, some people may experience improvements in symptoms, and others may regain partial or complete control over the affected areas with time.

This article discusses what tetraplegia is and how it affects the body.

a doctor examining the hand of a person with tetraplegiaShare on Pinterest
Treatment for tetraplegia may help a person regain partial control over the affected areas.

Tetraplegia is a type of paralysis that results in the loss of movement and sensation in all four limbs.

It affects different parts of the body depending on the person. It mostly affects the torso and limbs, but some people will also have paralysis of the neck, head, and shoulders.

Other types of paralysis include:

  • paraplegia, which affects the lower body
  • monoplegia, which affects a single limb
  • hemiplegia, which affects both limbs on one side of the body

Each type of paralysis occurs due to damage to a different area of the brain or spinal cord. More severe damage can cause more body parts to become paralyzed.

Tetraplegia vs. quadriparesis

Tetraplegia and quadriparesis are both conditions that cause a person to lose function in all four limbs. The main difference between the two is the degree of function that is lost.

A person with tetraplegia experiences paralysis in all four of their limbs. A person with quadriparesis, however, may only experience weakness and a partial loss of function in their limbs.

The main symptom of tetraplegia is paralysis. This, in turn, may cause severe impairments to mobility, and it can have a major impact on a person’s ability to perform their daily tasks.

Most people with tetraplegia are unable to walk and require a wheelchair. They may also be unable to bathe, dress, or eat without assistance. This can severely restrict a person’s independence.

Tetraplegia can also cause some complications over time. For example, a person might develop pressure sores due to being immobile.

Damage to the brain, spinal cord, or both is what causes tetraplegia.

The brain and spinal cord normally pass signals to muscles around the body to produce movement. Damage to the brain or spinal cord disrupts this signaling.

If the damage is severe enough, it can cause tetraplegia.

Damage to different parts of the spine and brain causes varying types and severities of paralysis. Damage to the cervical area of the spine tends to cause tetraplegia.

Possible causes of such damage include:

To diagnose tetraplegia, a doctor will assess the person’s symptoms and medical history. For example, they may ask questions about any recent accidents, or they might ask if the person has any family history of certain conditions.

It is important that they establish the cause of the tetraplegia to determine suitable treatment options.

The diagnosis will also involve some tests to assess the damage and the functioning of the muscles and nerves in the body.

Tests will likely involve medical imaging, such as an MRI scan, a CT scan, or an X-ray. To test nerve functioning, the doctor may use electromyography. This test measures the body’s responses to the stimulation of the muscle.

Paralysis is not currently curable. However, treatment may help some people regain partial or complete control over the affected areas. Treatment may also help relieve some of the symptoms and potential complications.

The treatment might vary depending on the cause. For example, if the paralysis is due to an autoimmune condition, a doctor might prescribe immunosuppressant drugs.

Doctors may also prescribe drugs to help with the pain or relax the muscles. Physical and occupational therapy may also be necessary to reduce muscle atrophy.

People with tetraplegia sometimes lose the ability to speak as normal. In these cases, a doctor may prescribe speech therapy to help.

Psychotherapy can also help with the emotional difficulties that some people experience with tetraplegia. Sometimes, this will also involve family members or loved ones.

Wheelchairs and other assistive devices can improve a person’s mobility.

Although much more research is necessary, some researchers suggest that stem cell therapy and nerve transfer surgery may help some people regain some control over the affected areas.

The long-term impact of paralysis varies from person to person. For example, some people experience muscle atrophy, which may worsen with age. This occurs when the muscles degrade and become flaccid over time.

Other people might experience spasticity. This occurs when the muscles stiffen, and it prevents normal fluid movements. It can cause muscle spasms and involuntary actions.

It is also possible to lose control of the bowels and bladder. People with tetraplegia may therefore experience accidents with urinary or bowel movements.

Sometimes, this might also lead to urinary tract infections. Infections can also occur elsewhere in the body, such as the lungs.

Over time, people with tetraplegia may also gain weight. Due to the lack of movement the condition brings, this might be difficult to prevent. In fact, a strict diet may be the only way of preventing weight gain.

There are currently no ways to cure paralysis in tetraplegia. Therefore, people with tetraplegia tend to require lifelong care.

However, by using a range of treatments and management strategies, some people may be able to regain partial or complete control over the affected areas.

In many cases, however, people with tetraplegia will need lifelong help with most daily activities, such as eating and using the bathroom. They are usually unable to live independently.

Psychotherapy and family therapies might help with the psychological impacts of tetraplegia. Ongoing physical therapy and medication may also be necessary to help a person deal with other complications that occur over time.

Tetraplegia, or quadriplegia, refers to paralysis in all four limbs. In some cases, it may also affect parts of the chest, abdomen, and back.

Damage to the brain or spinal cord can cause this condition. The damage may be due to physical trauma or a neurological condition.

People with tetraplegia might experience complications over time, such as spasticity. They usually require daily care and treatment.

It is not currently curable, but treatments may help people regain partial or complete control over the affected areas.