Quadriplegia is a condition in which victims have lost sensation and mobility in both their lower and upper body. Because it affects all four extremities, the condition can also be referred to as tetraplegia.
Quadriplegia is most often the result of a serious spinal cord injury due to an accident or act of violence. While car accidents are the leading cause of quadriplegia, paralysis resulting from violence, such as gunshots, is on the rise. Falls and sports-related injuries also lead to quadriplegia.
Each year, roughly 11,000 people are affected by spinal cord injury, with 47 percent leading to quadriplegia. Approximately 250,000 Americans are currently living with paralysis. More than 80 percent of spinal cord injury victims are male; the average age of quadriplegia victim is 32.
The spinal cord is referred to as the pathway between the brain and the body. When the spinal cord is damaged, the transmission of information between the brain and the body parts it controls is disrupted. The spinal cord is divided into five sections: the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral and coccygeal regions. The level of injury determines the extent of paralysis, with loss of sensation and mobility usually occurring below the site of the injury. Therefore, quadriplegia occurs when there is damage to the upper portion of the spinal cord, or the cervical and thoracic regions.
Quadriplegia can be defined as both complete and incomplete. Complete refers to total loss of sensation and bodily function below the injury level; incomplete injuries refer to partial loss, and are more common than complete injuries. Although the spinal cord can be severely damaged, it is rarely fully severed.
The related effects of quadriplegia not only refer to loss of mobility in the arms and legs, but also to the loss of function in a number of bodily systems. Breathing, bowel and bladder control are often limited or completely lost in victims of quadriplegia, and pain, muscle spasms and sexual dysfunction also often occur. Complications of quadriplegia can also lead to secondary medical problems, such as bladder infections, lung infections and skin lesions.
Although quadriplegia is usually caused by accidents, it can also be the result of poliomyelitis, a viral infection, or metabolic diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), which affect the neurons in the entire spinal cord; hereditary conditions, such as cephalic disorders and spastic quadriplegia; or brain damage from cerebral palsy, stroke or head trauma.