Paraplegia is the impairment in motor and/or sensory function in the lower extremities of the body. With this condition, legs and even pelvic area may be affected. Paraplegia is generally a result of trauma that causes spinal cord injury or spina bifida which is a birth defect that occurs when the tissues surrounding the developing spinal cord of a fetus fails to properly close. This affects the neural elements of the spinal cord. The thoracic, sacral and lumbar areas of the spine are affected by this condition. Paraplegia can manifest as a reduction in capability to move lower extremities or it can be a complete paralysis of the lower limbs. This renders the legs (and other affected areas of the paraplegia) function and feel sensors incapable.
In instances where those that suffer from the condition were not born with it, they were likely victims of a traumatic accident that damaged the spinal cord and nerves in ways that were irreparable. Immediately following the traumatic injury, sufferers likely lose reflexes and movement in all places below the area of the spine that is injured. Loss of bowel and bladder control in addition to sexual dysfunction may also occur depending on the severity of the injury (i.e. if the spinal cord was completely or partially cut).
The severity of paralysis is directly correlated with the level and site of spinal cord damage. The higher the damage on the spinal cord the higher up is the level of paralysis. This is what can determine whether one will be suffers of monoplegia (which only affects one limb), paraplegia (affecting both legs and often times pelvis), or quadriplegia (which affects both legs and arms). If the spinal injury is too high all limbs may be paralyzed and there may be a loss of control over the muscles used to breathe.
Some sufferers of paraplegia have neither had a traumatic accident nor were they born with it. In these instances the paraplegia may be a result of diseases such as syphilis, spinal tuberculosis, multiple sclerosis, poliomyelitis and spinal tumors. Usually in the case of disease, if the disease is cured the paralysis may go away and sufferers may regain function of limbs. Usually, however, the nerve damage is too severe and the paralysis remains.
Paraplegics tend to suffer from other conditions as a result of the paralysis of the limbs. These conditions can include pneumonia, decubitus (pressure sores) and thrombosis.
Most of the treatment offered for paraplegic is offered to assist sufferers in dealing with the condition and preventing further injury. There may be medication provided to prevent muscle spasms that can be caused by dysfunction to the motor neurons. Most treatment for paraplegics is offered to treat other conditions that may arise as a result of being paraplegic like blood clots and constipation.
The expected life span of those suffering from paraplegia is lower than normal with death rates highest during the first year of injury. The good news is that the life span expectancy has increased over the years.