Quadriplegia is paralysis from an injured brain or spinal cord above the first thoracic vertebra (T1) and generally of cervical spinal nerves C1 to C8. This is usually caused by an accident.
It can also stem from illnesses like Guillain-Barré syndrome, multiple sclerosis, polio, or spina bifida, or tumors and cancers affecting the brain or spine.
Function and feeling is lost below the level of injury. Arms may be partially or completely paralyzed, and the legs completely paralyzed as well. Bladder and bowel control may be lost.
Muscles in the chest and abdomen are affected, so breathing and the ability to cough is weakened.
Breathing may require ventilator use or an electrical implant in injuries above the C4 level of the cervical spinal nerves.
Quadriplegia is also called Tetraplegia. "Quadra" is Latin for "four". "Tetra" is Greek for "four". "Plegia" is Greek for "paralysis".
The location of the damage is called the level of injury, or the lesion.The level of injury dictates which muscles and organs are affected and how severely.
"Complete injury" causes total loss of function and feeling below the level of injury. "Incomplete injury" involves impairment but not a full loss of function and feeling. A bruised spinal cord may result in an incomplete injury.
If injury is not severe, a quadriplegic may still walk and use their hands. Their legs may have normal function, but not their feet.
It's possible to have non-functioning limbs but have normal function in sexual organs, bladder and bowel. One side may be completely paralyzed but not the other.
In rare cases, nerves may repair themselves so it's possible to recover from quadriplegia.
Paralysis doesn't guarantee a lack of sensation. Many quadriplegics experience burning, numbness, tingling and pain from a damaged nervous system (neuropathic pain).
Quadriplegics are vulnerable to bed sores. Fractures and osteoporosis are a hazard. Stiff joints and spasms are not uncommon.
Respiratory complications result from ventilator use. Cardiovascular disease is a real possibility.