There are three different types, called categories, of locked in syndrome. When doctors diagnose someone with the condition, the medical professional will evaluate their abilities and impairments to determine which category their condition falls into. These categories include:
- Classic form
- Incomplete form
- Total form
In general, those with the incomplete form of locked in syndrome retain the most voluntary movement while those with the total form retain no voluntary movement. All patients with locked in syndrome are fully conscious and aware of their surroundings, regardless of their ability to move or communicate.
Understanding the Three Types of Locked In Syndrome
Doctors differentiate the three categories of locked in syndrome based on the type of voluntary movement the patient possesses after brain swelling reduces and their medical condition stabilizes. This is often around the time acute treatment ends, and the patient is ready to go into rehabilitation. For those not diagnosed until later — a common occurrence with locked in syndrome — the doctor evaluates their abilities at the time of diagnosis.
The classic form of locked in syndrome presents as a patient who suffered a stroke or traumatic injury to their brain stem or pons. He or she suffers from quadriplegia and an inability to speak. That person cannot move their facial muscles but may be able to blink their eyes. He or she retains vertical eye movement and are conscious and aware of their surroundings.
The incomplete form of locked in syndrome also presents as a conscious and aware patient who cannot move or speak, although with this form he or she retains some voluntary movement in addition to blinking and vertical eye movement. This may include horizontal eye movement or even very small movements in another area of the face or body. Rarely are these significant movements, instead often presenting as remnants of motor function.
The total form of locked in syndrome leaves the patient with total paralysis, including vertical eye movements. This is the most difficult type of the condition to diagnose. These patients generally cannot communicate in any way, including using an eye gaze device. As technology improves, brain-computer interfaces may be significant for these patients who have full consciousness but are truly “locked in.”
How the Types of Locked In Syndrome Occur
All three different types of locked in syndrome occur in the same ways. The areas of the brain affected, how long the brain stem or pons lack blood flow, and other factors determine which type of locked in syndrome develops.
Some of the most common causes of locked in syndrome include:
- A blood clot or other blockage stops blood flow to the brain stem, causing a stroke
- A blood vessel bursts, causing a bleed on the brain and preventing proper blood flow to the brain stem and pons
- A traumatic brain injury affects the brain stem and pons, causing damage
- A tumor or other lesion growing in the brain stem cuts off the blood supply or otherwise causes damage
- A violent act causes a traumatic brain injury in this area of the brain
For example, if a blood clot only partially blocks blood flow to the brain stem or if doctors restore blood flow quickly, an incomplete injury may be more likely to occur.
Living with Locked In Syndrome
Significant recovery from the classic or total forms of locked in syndrome is rare, although there are several cases recorded in medical journals. Most people with the classic form remain bed-bound but may be able to communicate using eye gaze devices or brain-computer interfaces.
Power wheelchairs with eye gaze controls make it possible for them to get around. However, he or she still relies on caregivers for most, if not all, activities of daily living.
For some, though, significant recovery is possible even after classic or total locked in syndrome. Studies show that some people may learn to breathe on their own, swallow, and even manage their own bowel and bladder functions. In a few documented cases, the patient has learned to walk or regain other major motor function.
Recovery for those with the incomplete form depends on the voluntary movement he or she retains. Some people may make a near-full recovery while others remain bed-bound and dependent on caregivers.
Talk to a Brain Injury Attorney About Your Loved One’s Case
If you have a loved one who received a locked in syndrome diagnosis, the lawyers from Newsome | Melton will review their case for free. Someone else’s negligence often causes or exacerbates this condition and may limit your loved one’s quality of life. Let us evaluate your case and see if you can pursue compensation on their behalf.
You can reach a member of our team today by calling (800) 917-5888. We can handle even the most complex civil litigation.