Spastic quadriplegia is paralysis of all four limbs, coupled with spastic movements of any or all of those limbs. Spastic quadriplegia is caused by extensive brain damage or congenital malformations in the brain. It is a type of cerebral palsy – the most common type of CP – and affects all four limbs, the trunk, and the face. People with spastic quadriplegia usually cannot walk and often have other developmental and intellectual disabilities, as well as seizures, and problems with vision, hearing, and speech.
While quadriplegia in general can occur at any time in a person’s life as the result of a spinal cord injury, spastic quadriplegia tends to occur at birth, often during the birth process. There might also be other factors involved, such as maternal or fetal exposure to toxins. In some cases, unborn babies can suffer brain damage because of strokes caused by blood clots in the placenta that obstruct blood flow and cause bleeding in the brain. Other factors that might play a role in the development of spastic quadriplegia include:
- Blood pressure of the mother during pregnancy
- Infections, especially pelvic inflammatory disease
- Viral infections in the mother that travel to the uterus and placenta
- Lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain, sometimes due to delivery complications
- Rupture of the womb
- Damage to the umbilical cord or placenta
Diagnosing Spastic Quadriplegia
A number of symptoms are usually present when someone is affected by spastic quadriplegia. Many of the symptoms associated with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia are noticeable at birth, while others arise as a baby misses important developmental milestones. For this reason, it can take some time for a medical diagnosis to occur, as doctors must wait and watch a baby’s development. Because spastic quadriplegia is a severe form of cerebral palsy, it can sometimes be easier for a doctor to make a diagnosis sooner rather than later and most babies with spastic quadriplegia are diagnosed during infancy.
Symptoms that appear when a child is six months or younger include:
- Head lagging when baby is picked up while lying on his or her back
- Stiff feeling
- Floppy feeling
- Overextension of the back and neck while being held, and a constant feeling of pushing away
- Stiff or scissoring legs when picked up
Developmental milestones are often missed in babies with spastic quadriplegia, and doctors might provide a diagnosis if a six month or older baby cannot:
- Roll over in either direction
- Bring his or her hands together
- Has difficulty bringing his or her hands to her mouth
- Reaches out with only one hand while keeping the other fisted
Lifetime symptoms of spastic quadriplegia usually include:
- Spasticity or decreased muscle movement of the limbs
- Inability to walk
- Vision problems
- Difficulty swallowing
- Moderate to severe mental deficiencies
People diagnosed with spastic quadriplegia experience a variety of secondary symptoms as a result of their condition. These include issues with:
- Legs, hips, and feet
- Moderate to severe mental deficiencies
Some spastic quadriplegics experience equine foot deformity, which is caused by constant contractions of the muscles in the calf.
Children with spastic quadriplegia often wear a brace or strap to aid in correcting spinal kyphosis, which causes a pelvic tilt and makes it difficult to sit upright.
Treating Spastic Quadriplegia
There is no cure for spastic quadriplegia, but there are treatments available that allow spastic quadriplegics and those with other forms of cerebral palsy to live more comfortably. The goals of treatment include increasing mobility and making the patient as comfortable as possible. Physical and occupational therapy are often provided on an ongoing basis to help spastic quadriplegics train their muscles. Patients are often given exercises to perform at home to ensure their bodies stay as healthy as possible.
Increasing strength and preventing atrophy of the muscles are both important parts of treatment. There are also medical and mechanical devices available to help with mobility and independent movement, including braces, straps, and wheelchairs.
Most quadriplegics take medication to alleviate some of their secondary symptoms, such as spasticity and seizure control. Surgery might also be an option to repair limb deformities and make movement easier.
In some cases, spastic quadriplegia occurs because of negligence during pregnancy, or delivery and birth. If this is the case for you or someone you loved, you might have legal options and the opportunity to receive compensation to help with medical expenses.