Paralysis is the loss of the ability to move some or all of the body. Depending on the cause, it may be temporary or permanent. Call 999 if you or someone else has paralysis that begins suddenly, begins after a serious injury, or causes problems with speech, breathing or swallowing.

Symptoms of paralysis

The main symptom of paralysis is the inability to move part of your body, or not being able to move at all.

It can begin suddenly or gradually. Sometimes it comes and goes.

Paralysis can affect any part of the body, including:

  • the face
  • the hands
  • one arm or leg (monoplegia)
  • one side of the body (hemiplegia)
  • both legs (paraplegia)
  • both arms and legs (tetraplegia or quadriplegia)

The affected part of your body may also be:

  • stiff (spastic paralysis), with occasional muscle spasms
  • floppy (flaccid paralysis)
  • numb, painful or tingly

When to see your GP

See your GP if you have paralysis or weakness that:

  • started gradually
  • is getting slowly worse
  • comes and goes

Your GP can do some tests to see what the cause might be.

They may refer you to a hospital specialist for more tests if they're unsure what's causing your symptoms.

When to get emergency help

Call 999 for an ambulance if you or someone else has paralysis or weakness that:

  • begins suddenly
  • begins after a serious injury, such as a fall or car crash
  • causes problems with speech, breathing or swallowing

These problems could be a sign of something serious that needs to be treated in hospital straight away.

Causes of paralysis

There are many possible causes of paralysis.

But don't try to identify the cause yourself. See a doctor to get a proper diagnosis.

Main causes of paralysis

Some of the main causes of paralysis are:

Other causes of paralysis

Other causes of paralysis include:

Treatment and support

Paralysis can have a big impact on your life. Support is available to help you live as independently as you can and have the best possible quality of life.

The help you need will largely depend on what's causing your paralysis, see section above.

Some of the things that can help people who are paralysed include:

  • mobility equipment – such as wheelchairs and limb supports (braces)
  • physiotherapy to help you maintain as much strength and muscle mass as you can
  • occupational therapy to help adapt your home so everyday tasks like dressing and cooking are easier
  • medicines to relieve problems such as pain, stiffness and muscle spasms

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published January 2018

This page is due for review March 2021

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