4/17/12

Cause of Sudden Arm, Leg Weakness on One Side of Body




The cause of sudden weakness of an arm and leg on one side of the body isn’t necessarily a stroke. If unexplained arm and leg weakness are happening to you, ask yourself if, in the past few months, you bumped your head, or fell and hit your head—or in some way, got banged in the head—even if at the time, there were no symptoms.


Dr. Irene Gatti de Leon began experiencing weakness in her right arm and leg, seemingly out of the blue. Two months prior, she had slipped on some ice and hit her head, but at the time, was able to shake it off and didn’t give it a second thought. 

Two months later, when she began having weakness in her arm and leg, she didn’t make the connection. She wasted no time getting an MRI, which revealed a chronic subdural hematoma—a large one compressing her brain.

My mother passed out from a sudden blood pressure drop while standing at the bathroom sink, and on the way down, hit her head against the porcelain bathtub. She wasn’t even conscious as she fell, so thus couldn’t even help break the fall. When I heard that awful thud (I was on the lower level), I immediately knew what happened and flew up the stairs.

Unlike the Dr. Gatti de Leon case, my mother had a brain scan that day—but it showed no subdural hematoma; it was normal. Six weeks later she had sudden weakness in both legs, particularly the left.

If a chronic subdural hematoma is ignored, with the patient thinking that sudden arm or leg weakness is from stress or working too hard, the patient risks permanent disability—similar to that suffered from a stroke. 

More severe (non-chronic) subdural hematoma, indicated by arrow.
A subdural hematoma is a mass of blood on the brain’s surface, caused when trauma to the head breaks or tears the blood vessels between the brain’s outer covering and its surface. 

An acute subdural hematoma is immediately life-threatening, since the bleeding is rapid. A chronic subdural hematoma leaks blood very slowly over time, which is why the patient can go weeks without symptoms, and then literally awaken one day with significant arm and leg weakness.

Loyola University Medical Center neurologist Dr. José Biller, who diagnosed Dr. Gatti de Leon, says that her case "is an excellent illustration of why patients should not ignore neurological symptoms."
       
If you have sudden or even gradual weakness of an arm and leg, especially on one side of the body, seek immediate medical attention; insist on a brain scan.

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