Hemiplegia vs. Hemiparesis

A lot of people confuse these similar medical terms which have a different meaning in medical diagnostics. They are often heard from the doctors, but most of us don’t know the exact difference between these similar words. We will try to explain the difference of both medical terms and what is it that separates these two conditions.

What Is the Difference? Hemiplegia Vs. Hemiparesis


hemiplegiaHemiplegia is the condition which affects one side of the body, meaning, it is unilateral paresis. It comes from the Greek word “hemi” which means half. “Plegia” is another Greek word referring to paralysis or heavy weakness, stroke.  Hemiplegia includes the paralysis of one side of the body where it will affect either left or right side, affecting at the same time left leg and left arm or it will affect right leg and right arm. This happens due to motor center injury inside the brain.

There are numerous reasons that can end up in hemiplegias such as brain injuries and traumas. The most common condition which leads to brain circulation problem is a stroke. It can clog the brain arteries and a brain can suffer from blood and oxygen loss. If the right side of the brain is affected, the symptoms will appear on the opposite side of the body, thus it will affect the left side. If it is the other way and the problem is on the left side of the brain, the affected part of the body will be the right side.

There are a few causes which can lead to stroke or circulation problem inside the brain:

  • If the blood vessel in the brain ruptures, it can lead to blood leak or hemorrhage inside the skull which can be a serious problem and it can give various symptoms.
  • Thrombus is a blood clot which can be formed when there is a circulation blockage, arteriosclerosis, etc. It can block the vessel and stop the circulation which will lead to oxygen deficiency in the brain part which the artery carries the blood.
  • An embolus is a thrombus which comes from another part of the body and travels through the system when it gets stopped in the brain circulation. The blood supply is affected and it will end up in motor center dysfunction.

The Symptoms of Hemiplegia

The symptoms vary from the affected part of the brain. There are some symptoms which can be similar when comparing hemiplegia and hemiparesis. The symptoms which are usually associated with hemiplegia are speech difficulty, swallowing problems, problems with walking and obtaining balance, numbness, loss of sensation, depression, vision problems such as blurred vision, incontinence including bowel function and bladder. This type of symptoms can be a problem since it can affect your everyday life. You can have a problem with walking, getting dressed, eating, going to the bathroom, working, trying to hold any object, trying to tie your shoes, etc. If certain parts of the brain are affected, it can even have an impact on your memory where you can have a problem with remembering past things or you may not remember the people or past experiences. It can be a hard thing to cope with.


Another symptom of the cerebrovascular accident is hemiparesis. Hemiparesis is less serious condition than hemiplegia since it does not mean a paralysis of one-half of the body, but it refers to as a weakness of one side of the body, which can occur only in some muscles. A person can have symptoms similar to those with hemiplegia, but it is a smaller scale condition.

Symptoms of Hemiparesis

The weakness which is an outcome associated with hemiparesis can be different due to certain parts of the brain which are affected. If the right side of the brain is affected, most likely the weakness will appear among nonverbal communication and in the left side of the body. If the left side of the brain is affected, the symptoms can be problems with speaking and other communication problems.

Symptoms which can be spotted are muscle weakness such as disrupted muscle precision, ability to hold an object, the problem in walking, balance, coordination. All of this can lead to difficulty in everyday life such as dressing, walking, eating, doing some activity, going to the bathroom. Some of the treatments can help in regaining the lost sensations, movements and recovering the ability to function normally.

Techniques to Help the Recovery Process

There are a few things you can do to increase your chance of getting better. Here are some of those.

Range of Motion

It is important to keep trying to move the affected limb in order to prevent muscle contractures and to prevent the muscle stiffness. You can do the movement by yourself so it would be an active movement or it could be active-assistive or passive if you need the help some medical assistance. The caregiver can help you with doing some of the movements if you are not capable of doing it on your own.


Some people have been prescribed with orthotics which are to support the affected limb and as a prevention for muscle contraction. This orthotics can be for hand, ankle, elbow, etc.


Slings are used for humerus subluxation. The humerus is the upper arm bone which can get out of its place and the joint may suffer from dislocation. The sling will keep it in place and it will support the affected muscles and ligaments in the shoulder joint.


Either if it’s the leg or the arm that is affected, it is important to give a proper support. If you put your limb in a specific position, it will ease the pressure and it will help with recovery. You can do this by holding your leg up and keeping it from the rotation at the level of the hip and also try to keep your leg facing forward. The arm should be placed on a pillow or some sort of board. You can also place the affected arm on a pillow beside the body when laying down.


You can do various exercises which can help you strengthen your muscles and prevent contractures. You can also try electrical stimulation.

Compensatory Techniques

These include raised toilets, hemi-walkers, bathroom transfer benches, etc. There is also some adaptive clothing which can help with faster clothes changing.