Know Your Medical Vocabulary: Defining Hemiplegia, Hemiparesis and Cerebral Palsy

You know that feeling when someone says a word that you don’t understand? It happens to people all the time. It might be your accountant right before tax time. It might be your favorite director on the commentary track of his latest film. It might be (actually, it probably will be) the IT guy at your office when that one document just won’t download. With the ever-expanding English vocabulary, this will continue to happen for some time.

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The scariest time for this to happen is when your doctor uses a word or, worse yet, a group of words that you don’t understand. Imagine hearing that your child has hemiplegia, hemiparesis, or cerebral palsy.

None of them sound good, but it would be helpful to know the difference.

A little vocabulary lesson is in order. For ease of reference, here are the word parts in alphabetical order:

  • “Cerebral” = Involving the cerebrum of the brain
  • “Hemi-” = Half
  • “Palsy” = Paralysis with tremors
  • “Paresis” = Weakness
  • “-plegia” = Paralysis

Now, let’s put it all together.

  • Hemiplegia is paralysis involving half the body, often caused by some sort of injury to the opposite side of the brain.
  • Hemiparesis is weakness with some paralysis in half the body, also usually caused by brain injury or perhaps brain tumors.
  • Cerebral palsy is weakness and paralysis with tremors regardless of where it occurs in the body. It’s also the result of some sort of damage to the brain, either before, during, or after birth.

These crippling conditions present challenges for everyone involved. The person with the disorder must deal with the effects on a daily basis whenever trying to carry out everyday tasks. His or her loved ones also must help carry out these everyday tasks. There are limited treatment options for each, but certainly, a reasonable quality of life is possible for all.

Click here to read more about the distinction between these three conditions.

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