Palsy is a term used in conjunction with several medical conditions. Although the exact cause, symptoms, and treatments vary from one condition to the next, all forms are characterized by a loss of motor function. Three common forms are cerebral palsy, Bell’s palsy, and brachial palsy.
Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders characterized by a loss of function throughout the body. The severity of this condition varies greatly from one patient to the next, as do the symptoms. A person with it may experience difficulty with cognition, sensation, perception, and communication. He or she may also exhibit behavioral disorders or seizure disorders.
This form is present at birth in 75% of cases, and there is no cure for the condition. Another 5% of cases develop at birth, and 15% occur after birth. In the majority of cases, the cause of cerebral palsy is unknown. Approximately 20% of cases, however, are caused by malnutrition, head trauma, and infections. Regardless of how it develops, the disorder is not progressive.
In the case of Bell’s palsy, only the face is affected. It is characterized by dropping, which usually occurs on only one side of the face. The drooping is the result of the cranial nerve, which controls muscles in the face, malfunctioning. In addition to the drooping sensation, a person with Bell’s palsy may also lose his or her sense of taste and experience pain around the ear.
Infections from herpes and Lyme disease have also been linked to Bell’s palsy. In addition, trauma to the head can be a cause. In fact, some babies are born with the disorder. This is usually the result of trauma at birth that caused permanent nerve damage.
Brachial palsy, also referred to as Erb’s palsy, Klumpke paralysis, or Erb-Duchenne paralysis, is characterized by a general weakness or paralysis of the arm. This is caused when damage occurs to the brachial plexus, or the nerves located around the shoulder. This condition is often brought on by a traumatic birth experience, such as when the infant's head is pulled to one side or when the shoulders are pushed on excessively. Pressure placed on one arm during breech delivery can also cause this form.
In most cases, brachial palsy corrects itself. Infants who still have difficulty with arm movement at three to six months, however, may require surgery to correct the problem. Surgery may involve transferring tendons to the affected area.