What Is Quadriplegia?

In 2013, a study revealed that almost one in every 50 people in the United States suffers from paralysis. Quadriplegia is one of the types of paralysis; it occurs when someone loses mobility and sensation in all four limbs and the torso. Quadriplegia is a severe condition with many life-changing effects on a victim.

Some Common Causes of Quadriplegia

Many things can cause quadriplegia. Most of the time, it develops because of a severe spinal cord injury. Car accidents are the most common cause of quadriplegia, accounting for 37% of severe spinal cord injuries. Slip and fall accidents and acts of violence are the second and third leading causes of damage to the spinal cord, leading to 30% and 28% of all spinal cord injuries. Athletics and medical accidents are some of the less common causes of spinal cord injuries that can lead to quadriplegia.

Accidents, acts of violence, and falls are traumatic, unexpected incidents that can often result in paralysis. Quadriplegia can also happen over time.

Some non-traumatic injuries that could lead to quadriplegia include:

  • Infections or lesions in the spinal cord
  • Congenital defects
  • Tumors

Studies have also found that alcohol consumption can be a factor in spinal cord injuries causing quadriplegia; approximately one quarter of all spinal cord injuries in the United States involve alcohol use on someone’s part.

Symptoms of Quadriplegia

No matter the cause of quadriplegia, the condition often changes over time. Depending on your age, gender, and health before the incident, quadriplegics may experience a plethora of symptoms.

Along with the loss of sensation in all four limbs and the torso, some of the symptoms of quadriplegia include:

  • Sudden, uncontrollable movements
  • Difficulty controlling bladder and urinary function, often leading to urinary tract infections
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty with fertility or sexual function
  • Infections
  • Mental health issues
  • Weight gain

For quadriplegics who begin regaining some sensation, another symptom may be chronic pain caused by muscles weakening from disuse.

Complications of Quadriplegia

Unfortunately, quadriplegia and the accompanying symptoms are not the end of the health risks. The inactivity of a quadriplegic’s body can cause a variety of other issues, along with the chronic pain.

One of the most common complications of paralysis is pressure sores. Sometimes referred to as bedsores, pressure sores occur when a body is in one position for a long period. The skin becomes irritated and develops sores. Because the paralysis of quadriplegia prevents victims from being able to move on their own, they are at a high risk for developing pressure sores, which can become seriously infected. Severe pressure sores can sometimes lead to death.

Another complication that accompanies the immobility of quadriplegia is an increased risk for blood clots. Blood circulation becomes poor because the quadriplegic person cannot move. Slow circulation can cause blood clots, which can be fatal.

Quadriplegia can also lead to autonomic dysreflexia, which occurs when signals of pain or irritation below the injury do not reach the brain but cause a nerve signal that interrupts regular body function. The process may cause a person’s heart rate to drop and blood pressure to rise, making the patient extremely vulnerable to suffering a stroke. Even minimal irritation, such as uncomfortable clothing, could cause autonomic dysreflexia.

Living with quadriplegia gives a person a higher risk of suffering many injuries. Burns, for example, is a serious threat. If a paralyzed part beneath the injury is resting on something hot, the person may not feel the pain and, thus, may not move. Severe, possibly fatal, burns can occur without someone realizing what is happening. The lack of sensation and lack of pain leaves quadriplegics extremely vulnerable.

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