Muscle function loss occurs when your muscles do not work or move normally. Complete muscle function loss, or paralysis, is a complete loss of muscle function in which your muscles are unable to contract normally.
If your muscles lose function, you will be not be able to properly operate the affected part of your body. This symptom is often the signal of a serious problem within the body, such as a severe injury, a drug overdose, or coma. Loss of muscle function can be permanent or temporary. However, all instances of muscle function loss should be treated as a medical emergency.
Loss of muscle function is often caused by a failure in the nerves that send signals from the brain to the muscles, causing them to move.
Muscle function tends to occur in what are called voluntary muscles. Voluntary muscles are skeletal muscles that you have full control over. Involuntary muscles, such as the heart and intestinal smooth muscles are not within your conscious control. However, they too can cease functioning. The loss of function in involuntary muscles can be fatal.
Common causes for the loss of voluntary muscle function are diseases of the muscles and diseases of the nervous system.
Diseases of the Muscles
Diseases that directly affect the way the muscles function are responsible for most cases of muscle function loss. Two of the more common muscle diseases that cause muscle function loss include muscular dystrophy and dermatomyositis.
Diseases of the Nervous System
Diseases that affect the way nerves transmit signals to the muscles can cause muscle function loss. Common nervous system conditions that cause paralysis are:
- Bell’s palsy (causes partial paralysis of the face)
- Lou Gehrig’s disease
Many of the diseases that cause loss of muscle function are hereditary (present at birth). However, severe injuries account for a large number of paralysis cases. Long-term drug use and medication side effects can also cause muscle function loss.
There are several types of muscle function loss. The loss of muscle function is placed into one of two categories: partial or total. Partial muscle function loss only affects a part of the body; this is the main symptom in stroke victims. Total muscle function loss, or paralysis, affects the entire body, and is often seen in people with severe spinal cord injuries.
If loss of muscle function affects both the top half and the bottom half of the body, it is called quadriplegia. If it affects only the bottom half of the body, it is called paraplegia.
Before undergoing any treatment, the doctor will first diagnose what’s causing muscle function loss. The location of muscle function loss, the amount of your body affected, and your other symptoms all give clues regarding the underlying causes.
Things to Tell Your Doctor
Let your doctor know if the loss of muscle function came on suddenly or gradually.
Also, mention the following:
- any additional symptoms
- types of symptoms
- medications you’re taking
- if you’re having trouble breathing
- if the loss of muscle function is temporary or recurrent
- if you have difficulty gripping items
After the physical examination and review of your medical history, your doctor will administer tests to see if a nerve or muscle condition is causing the loss of muscle function.
These tests might include, but are not limited to:
- muscle biopsy: in this test, a small piece of muscle tissue is removed for examination
- nerve biopsy: in this test, a small piece of a potentially affected nerve is removed for examination)
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan of the brain: this test is used to check for the presence of tumors or blood clots in the brain
- nerve conduction study: this test uses electrical impulses to test nerve function
Even after treatment, paralysis may remain partially or totally. The outlook depends on the cause and severity of your loss of muscle function. Treatment options are tailored to your particular needs, and may include:
- physical therapy
- medications (such as aspirin or warfarin to lessen future possibility of damage, such as with strokes)
- occupational therapy
- surgery (a way of repositioning a damaged muscle)
- functional electrical stimulation (a procedure to stimulate paralyzed muscles by sending electrical shocks to the muscles)