Both hemiparesis and hemiplegia sound very similar, but each of them refers to different things. The use of these two words is often quite confusing because many professionals use the words interchangeably. There are even instances when a healthcare professional may start explaining your child’s condition using one word and then suddenly switch to the other. So, when you compare hemiplegia and hemiparesis,what exactly is the difference?
Comparing Hemiplegia vs. Hemiparesis to Know the Difference
The word “hemi” means one side of the body, whereas the word “plegia” stands for severe weakness. Together, “hemiplegia” means complete paralysis or loss of function of one-half of the body, including one leg and arm. You can develop hemiplegia because of an injury or disease in the motor centers of the brain.
You usually develop a left-sided hemiplegia if you sustain an injury to the right side of your brain, while a right-sided hemiplegia is the outcome of an injury to the left side of your brain. Injury may well be a reason behind the development of hemiplegia, but stroke remains the commonest cause of hemiplegia. There is loss of brain function when your brain cells do not receive enough blood. You may get a stroke because of one of the following factors:
- A thrombus, which means a clot forms within the blood vessel and blocks the supply of blood.
- An embolus, which means a thrombus or clot breaks away from its original site and blocks blood supply somewhere else in the body.
- A hemorrhage, which means a blood vessel that supplies the blood to the brain ruptures and bleed.
The symptoms you experience after getting hemiplegia largely depends on the part of the brain affected. And when comparing hemiplegia vs. hemiparesis, you may find some very similar symptoms. The most common symptoms are difficulty in swallowing, difficulty in walking, problem maintaining balance, speech difficulties, depression, and numbness with loss of sensations on the affected side of the body. Some people have blurred vision as well as loss of control over bladder and bowel movements. You may no longer be able to perform tasks like tying laces, holding objects, buttoning, dressing yourself, etc. Moreover, your memory may become poor with you becoming unable to recall past events concerning places, people, and activities.
The word “paresis” may sound like paralysis, but it actually refers to “partial loss of movement”. It means that instead of affecting one-half of your body, the condition affects particular muscles only. In other words, the less severe form of hemiplegia is hemiparesis. Research shows that hemiparesis affects every 8 in 10 stroke survivors, and make it difficult for the person to move one side of the body.
What you experience usually depends on the affected part of the brain. If you sustain an injury to the left side of the brain, you may have right-sided weakness. This part of the brain controls language and speaking. Similarly, any injury to the right side of the brain, which controls nonverbal communication, may result in left-sided weakness.
You may have weakness in your hands, arms, legs, and even facial muscles. With one-sided weakness, it becomes difficult to perform certain activities, such as dressing, eating, and using the bathroom. Difficulty walking, muscle fatigue, lack of coordination,impaired ability to hold objects and decrease in movement precision are also common symptoms of hemiparesis. Exercises at home, rehabilitation treatments, and assistive devices help improve mobility and accelerate recovery.
Hemiplegia vs. Hemiparesis: Management
The comparison between hemiplegia and hemiparesis makes it easy to understand the difference between the two, but it is equally important to understand how to manage both conditions properly. Here are some ways to achieve this.
1. Range of Motion
You need to move the weak or paralyzed limb to help prevent muscle contractures and stiffness. Range of motion can be active or passive, active-assistive depending on the severity of the problem.
You may benefit from wearing a wrist and hand orthoses, ankle foot orthoses, or elbow brace to keep your joint in the right position and provide support to weak or paralyzed muscles.
You may benefit from arm slings when subluxation is a problem. It occurs when the head of the upper arm bone drops out of the shoulder socket. This usually happens due to wakened ligaments.
You need to learn how to position your weak leg or arm properly. You can use a pillow, tray, or lapboard to support your weak arm when sitting. If you are using a tray or pillow, you need to ensure that the height is not too much to push your shoulder up. Be sure to position your leg comfortable while sitting and avoid too much rotation at the hip. Knee should be facing forward and foot should be flat on the floor. Place a pillow by your side while lying on your back. Similarly, when lying on your unaffected side, keep a pillow in front of your body to support your affected side.
It is important to perform some strengthening exercises to accelerate recovery. Your doctor will teach you certain exercises while considering hemiplegia vs. hemiparesis. You may not be able to perform certain exercises when you have hemiplegia or complete paralysis of one side. Electrical stimulation may also help strengthen and activate your weak muscles.
6. Compensatory Techniques
You may have to make use of compensatory techniques to deal with problems caused by hemiplegia. It is easy to find adaptive equipment that improves mobility and makes ADLs easier. The most common examples of adaptive equipment are bathroom transfer benches, hemi-walkers, dressing aids, raised toilets, and more. It is now also possible to find adaptive clothing that stroke patients can use for easy fastening and removal.