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Quadriplegia, also known as tetraplegia, is characterized by partial or full loss of sensation and control in all four limbs and the torso. Quadriplegia is caused by damage to the brain or cervical spine. Paraplegia is a similar condition, but does not involve arm paralysis. Some individuals suffering from quadriplegia still retain full arm functioning. However, loss of nervous control in the thumbs and fingers are typically present.

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Quadriplegia due to Medical Error

It is crucial to diagnose and treat a spinal cord or associated nerve injury as soon as possible. In some cases, untreated injuries can lead to spreading or swelling that further compromises the spinal cord. In a hospital or other environment of professional medical supervision, carelessness or negligence surrounding an injury or other condition can lead to quadriplegia. This scenario can be classified as medical malpractice.

Quadriplegia can be indirectly or directly caused by:

  • Failing to diagnose and cure a condition that leads to quadriplegia
  • Negligent or improper treatment of a curable spinal cord injury
  • Lack of oxygen resulting from an unrelated procedure
  • Spinal cord pressure from a blood clot resulting from an unrelated procedure

 

Classification of Quadriplegia

The severity of quadriplegia is primarily measured using the seven cervical vertebrae along the spine. C1 refers to the highest vertebra which is located at the base of the spine. Quadriplegia is typically the result of direct injury to the brain or spinal cord at level C1 through C7. Quadriplegia resulting from C1-C4 damage usually affects the patient’s arm movement and sensation to a higher degree than a C5-C7 injury.

The American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) classifies quadriplegia on a scale from A to D. Level A represents complete quadriplegia which is characterized by the absence of motor and sensory function in the lower sacral segments of the spine. Levels B through D measure incomplete levels of quadriplegia. This classification system is based on sensory and motor function as well as the patient’s muscle grade below the neurological level.

Complications of Quadriplegia

Some complications of quadriplegia may involve:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Chronic pain
  • Blood clots
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Respiratory infections
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Urinary and fecal incontinence
  • Spasticity, or muscle stiffness
  • Decubitus ulcers, or pressure sores

Risk Factors and Causes

There are numerous congenital conditions that can ultimately lead to a patient’s quadriplegia. Even with adequate medical attention, these conditions may not be fully cured. However, there are several curable conditions that can lead to quadriplegia if treated inadequately. These conditions include sports injuries, car accidents, and other accidents that cause spinal cord injury or swelling and inflammation that can contribute to spinal cord injury. Additionally, there are several illnesses that can lead to quadriplegia if undiagnosed or improperly treated.

Congenital conditions and diseases that cause quadriplegia include:

  • Scoliosis
  • Spina bifida
  • Transverse myelitis
  • Poliomyelitis, or polio
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Spastic cerebral palsy

Untreated or poorly treated conditions that can lead to quadriplegia involve:

  • Spinal fracture
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Bony metastases
  • Spinal compression
  • Spinal tuberculosis
  • Vertebral disc prolapse
  • Epidural hematoma of the spine
  • Epidural abscess or hemorrhage
  • Spinal cord or vertebral tumor growth

 

Sources:

Gormley Jr., M. E., L. E. Krach, and L. Piccini.”Spasticity Management in the Child with Spastic Quadriplegia.”European Journal of Neurology.8.(2001): 127-135. Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition. Web.1 Dec. 2012.
King, Wilson, et al. “Prevalence of Reduced Bone Mass in Children and Adults with Spastic Quadriplegia.” Developmental medicine and child neurology 45.1 (2003): 12-6. ProQuest Nursing & Allied Health Source. Web.1 Dec. 2012.
“Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital Target Quadriplegia.” Pain & Central Nervous System Week 6 June 2011: 214. Academic OneFile.Web. 2 Dec. 2012.