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What is Brown-Sequard Syndrome?

By Christina Edwards
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Brown-Sequard syndrome is a relatively rare type of partial paralysis sometimes also referred to as Brown-Sequard hemiplegia or Brown-Sequard paralysis. This condition is characterized by paralysis on one side of the body and loss of sensation in the other side of the body, which is usually caused by some sort of damage to the spinal cord. Brown-Sequard syndrome is named after its describer who first wrote about this condition in 1850.

Many times when the spinal cord is damaged, any part of the body below the level of the injury will become paralyzed. In the case of Brown-Sequard syndrome, only half of the body will usually become paralyzed and the other half will become numb, or lose the ability to feel certain sensations such as pain or temperature. This is usually due to a spinal cord lesion that causes damage but does not sever the cord completely.

There are a few things that can cause Brown-Sequard syndrome. Spinal cord trauma, especially puncture or gunshot wounds, can cause this condition, as can a spinal cord tumor. An obstructed blood vessel and some diseases, including multiple sclerosis and meningitis, can also cause Brown-Sequard syndrome.

Weakness or complete paralysis below and on the same side as the site of the spinal cord trauma is one of the main symptoms of Brown-Sequard syndrome. An individual with this condition will also typically have partial or complete sensation loss on the opposite side. For example, if the spinal cord is damaged by a puncture wound on the left side, with Brown-Sequard syndrome there will often be paralysis on the left side of the body and sensation loss on the right side of the body.

Diagnosing the cause of Brown-Sequard syndrome is usually done with an MRI, or magnetic resonance image. Determining the cause of this syndrome is the first step towards treating it. Treatment options will usually vary depending on the nature of and severity of the cause, but in some cases, administering high-dose steroids early will show some success. Treating the underlying trauma or medical condition, however, is generally the only way to rid a patient of his symptoms. For example, a tumor on the spinal cord will usually be removed to treat Brown-Sequard syndrome, but this is also a risky procedure. Many times, the treatments do work, but this condition can result in complete paralysis.

Charles Edouard Brown-Sequard was born in Mauritius to an American father and a French mother. He did extensive research and studies on the spinal cord in the United States, Britain, and France. Although he was considered to be quite an eccentric scientist, he was also considered to be rather brilliant. Brown-Sequard first noticed this condition while observing farmers cutting sugar cane crops.

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