Topics: Research, Paralysis

What Causes Temporary Paralysis?


There are quite a few different possibilities when it comes to determining the cause for a case of paralysis. Some cases are easier to determine than others, but it most often has something to do with damage that has been done to the nervous system or brain. When it comes to temporary paralysis, one might think of the temporary state that a limb experiences when blood flow has been restricted and the individual is unable to use it.

There are also cases when people have experienced something traumatizing enough that they are unable to move. However, there is a more serious condition that is referred to as temporary paralysis, more commonly referred to as periodic paralysis, that refers to a disease which causes temporary episodes of muscle weakness.

Most of the time the disease is inherited, but it can happen that the symptoms were mild with past relatives so the family was not aware of the presence of the gene. “This group of diseases is unusually difficult to diagnose and in most cases patients report numerous wrong diagnosis and treatments that made them worse.” In any case, when a person begins to show signs of paralysis they should always seek medical attention immediately before trying to come to any conclusion about its cause.

Causes of Temporary Paralysis

Temporary paralysis occurs because of a dysfunction created in the genes that control certain functions in the muscle membrane. In most cases, this gene is passed down from another family member. About 50% of women who carry the gene mutation show no symptoms at all. However, people who do not show signs can still pass on the gene. “Each child of an affected parent has a 50% chance of inheriting the gene mutation.” The triggers that most often cause the temporary paralysis to occur include:

  • cold
  • heat
  • carbohydrates
  • hunger
  • stress
  • excitement
  • physical activity

Types of Periodic Paralysis

The different types of temporary paralysis are defined by which ion channel in the muscle membrane is affected. There have been around 30 mutations that have been discovered. A few examples are:

Hypokalemic periodic paralysis: an inherited disorder that is defined by extremely low levels of potassium in the blood due to impaired sodium channels in the muscle membrane. The weakness in the muscles may be mild and only occur in certain muscle groups, or be may severe and impair the arms and legs.

Paramyotonia congenita: a congenital disorder where the muscles will not relax after they contract due to dysfunction in the nerves. In this case the problem is located in the nervous system instead of the muscles.

Andersen-Tawil syndrome: a rare genetic disorder that affects the rhythm of the heart, disrupting the flow of potassium in the skeletal and cardiac muscle. People with this type of temporary paralysis may also have weakness in general, even in between attacks.

Diagnosis & Treatment

This group of diseases may be diagnosed by DNA testing or possibly a “properly performed Compound Muscle Amplitude Potential Test can provide an accurate diagnosis.” Treatments usually consist of:

  • carbonic anhydrase inhibitors
  • oral potassium chloride supplements
  • thiazide to control how the kidneys retain potassium
  • specific lifestyle changes including a designated amount of exercise and physical activity

Seeking Medical Care

When seeking medical attention, your doctor will most likely try different forms of medication to reduce any further damage and/or pain. With initial symptoms of paralysis, there are a great amount of possibilities for what the condition actually is, so the quicker diagnosis and treatment can begin could end up making a huge difference when it comes to a person’s physical health and future.

As soon as the affected person is stabilized, their doctor will start to develope a plan outlining treatment options going forward.  Therapists and support groups are extremely helpful for anymore assistance needed when it comes to coping with paralysis. Talk to your doctor and use some of the resources provided on websites that specialize in paralysis.

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