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Diplegia vs. Hemiplegia: What is the Difference?

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Suffering a brain or spinal cord injury is already a harrowing enough experience as it is, but when one considers the endless list of scientific terminology used to describe how such a condition can affect the body, it can be that much more confusing and frustrating.

Given the widespread danger involved, we believe it’s essential that both patients and their caregivers understand what’s involved in these injuries. We’ve already demystified the misconception of a spinal cord fracture. Today we’re breaking down the difference between diplegia and hemiplegia, two types of paralysis that can result from significant damage to the brain and spinal cord.

Diplegia vs. Hemiplegia

Diplegia and hemiplegia are inextricably linked by their description of very specific kinds of paralysis. Yet, it’s essential to know the difference between the two. At its most basic, diplegia can be described as a kind of symmetrical paralysis that affects two corresponding parts of the body, typically both arms or both legs. Meanwhile, hemiplegia involves the loss of movement and sensation on one side, meaning that a patient’s right arm and right leg may be the only areas affected. While those broad definitions delineate the distinction between the two terms, let’s get into a bit more depth on them both.


While diplegia often only affects both arms or both legs, it can extend to both sides of the face as well. The condition isn’t an illness in and of itself but rather a symptom of some other trauma, including causes like vascular disorders, toxic agents, cerebral palsy and, yes, brain and spinal cord injuries.

Though it is the most common type of paralysis in children, diplegia can affect anyone, and its severity can change radically over time. Fortunately, patients don’t always entirely lose full functioning and sensation of the affected areas but may suffer some loss. Additional symptoms may include decreased neurological functioning, uncontrolled muscle movements, and difficulty controlling the bladder or bowels.

Treatment varies from antibiotics to surgery, but severe cases of diplegia can still see improvement over time, depending on the cause behind it and the quality of care.


This form of paralysis can reach over into the torso, though it normally affects the arm and leg on one side of the body. Hemiplegia is often derived from a similar condition known as hemiparesis, which is also characterized by a loss of strength and mobility on one side of the body. One of the most common causes of both is stroke. Because one hemisphere of the brain controls the nervous functioning on the opposite side of the body, hemiplegia typically denotes some damage to the brain -- or, less frequently, the spinal cord -- which may develop over time or appear suddenly.

The condition may even result in the middle of a muscle contraction, in which case it becomes known as spastic hemiplegia. Trauma to the head is often to blame, in which case the brain’s ability to transmit signals has been compromised. Other causes may include cardiovascular issues and serious infections like meningitis.

The effects can be temporary or lifelong, with other symptoms including cognitive changes, difficulty speaking, spastic muscle attacks and seizures. As far as treatment options, the solution is almost exclusively dependent on the root cause of the hemiplegia, though it ranges from medication to brain surgery.

A Deeper Knowledge

Hopefully, the details above have helped you understand the difference between two of the most serious forms of paralysis. We believe that the more you know about the science behind brain and spinal cord injuries, the better prepared you’ll be to face such a situation or aid a loved one suffering from paralysis in the future.

However, diplegia and hemiplegia are only the beginning of what you need to know to develop a greater understanding of this subject. If you or someone you care about is facing a brain or spinal cord injury, you should already be seeking out legal help to explore your chances of financial relief.

Your brain or spinal cord attorney should have a knowledge base of the science involved and can aid you in securing the health care professionals you need for more elaborate answers.

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Topics: Paralysis

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