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Paraparesis is a neurological condition characterized by weakness or partial paralysis in the lower limbs. There are a number of causes for this condition. It usually cannot be cured, although it can be managed, and patients can receive assistance to improve quality of life and to help them retain muscle tone in their legs. Individuals who have the condition may also be entitled to government disability benefits in recognition of the challenges they may face as a result.
One form is familial paraparesis, also known as familial spastic paraparesis or hereditary spastic paraplegia. This condition is genetic in nature, and characterized by progressive nerve degeneration. Initially, the patient may experience some weakness, numbing, and tingling sensations, and the condition gradually grows worse over time. People with a family history of this condition can develop it and pass it on to their children.
In tropical spastic paraparesis, the condition is caused by a human t-lymphotropic virus (HTLV) infection in the spinal cord, which causes nerve damage. Even if the infection is managed, the damage will be permanent and progressive. Patients can experience an onset of symptoms as late as 30 years after the initial infection, which means that people who have traveled in tropical areas may not immediately make a connection between their neurological problems and their travels, which can make the condition more difficult to diagnose and treat.
People can also experience weakness or paralysis as a result of nerve damage caused by trauma, as well as other types of infections in the spinal cord. Depending on the severity of the damage, the patient may be able to engage in light physical activity, or may need assistive devices, such as canes, walkers, or wheelchairs, to navigate the world successfully. Patients may opt to work with a physical therapist or a specialist in assistive devices to learn about their options.
A neurologist can diagnose paraparesis, determine the cause, and offer treatment recommendations. Physical therapy may be recommended to help patients retain muscle strength and prevent contractures that could cause pain and additional disability. Medications can be used to manage symptoms, such as inflammation,which may be associated with some forms. The patient will need to attend routine neurological exams for life to monitor the progress of the condition and identify any complications that emerge before they become a serious problem. In some cases, the patient may also experience urinary or fecal incontinence, which will need to be managed.