This is a condition that develops in 30 to 50% of polio survivors, years after their recovery from poliomyelitis. Here is a brief overview about post polio syndrome.
Post polio syndrome is a condition that can affect those people who had been infected and recovered from poliomyelitis. After 15 to 30 years of recovery, they may develop certain symptoms, like progressive muscle weakness, pain, and fatigue. This condition may affect muscles which were earlier infected by poliomyelitis, or new ones.
The symptoms of post polio syndrome vary from person to person. They can be severe in some individuals, but very mild in others. It is believed that the severity of the poliomyelitis attack can be determined by the symptoms of post polio syndrome. Individuals, who have had a severe attack of poliomyelitis and a greater recovery, are more prone to grave symptoms.
Symptoms of post polio syndrome include general and muscular fatigue, pain from joint degeneration, decrease in muscle mass (muscular atrophy), and even scoliosis (curvature of spine). Fatigue is the most common disabling symptom, which can escalate other symptoms. This condition can also cause breathing trouble, discomfort in swallowing, and sleep-related disorders.
Weakness may appear in limbs that were originally infected or those which were not affected at the time of the initial attack. People who were highly active (physical activity) after recovering from poliomyelitis are also likely to develop severe symptoms.
Till date, no specific cause has been attributed for the occurrence of post polio syndrome. Though there are many hypotheses regarding its causes, the neural fatigue theory is widely accepted. According to this theory, the poliomyelitis attack causes death of nerve cells or motor neurons, which control skeletal muscles.
A motor unit is a neuron along with the muscle fibers it activates. During the process of recovery, the surviving motor neurons develop new nerve cells to the orphaned muscle fibers. This results in enlarged motor unit, which in turn helps in restoring movement.
As per this theory, with the passage of time, the nerve cells in the enlarged motor unit experience metabolic stress due to the additional responsibility. This leads to slow impairment of the new nerve cells and permanent damage of the original nerve cells, thereby causing weakness, and even paralysis in some cases.
Diagnosis and Treatment
There is no specific test to diagnose post polio syndrome. It is difficult to distinguish the symptoms of this disease from the normal signs of aging. The main factors which can be helpful in diagnosing the condition include, poliomyelitis attack and recovery, long interval of stable health, and gradual onset of weakness and pain.
It is highly important to eliminate other possible causes of the symptoms, before confirming post polio syndrome. Neuromuscular examinations combined with some laboratory tests, like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), neuroimaging, electrophysiological studies, muscle biopsies, or spinal fluid analysis, can help in diagnosing this condition.
At present, no specific treatment is there for this condition. Treatment includes various measures to reduce pain and fatigue, increase strength, and improve overall quality of life. This can be achieved through medication, judicious exercise under the supervision of qualified professionals, use of recommended mobility aids, like powered wheelchairs, breathing exercises, smoking cessation, and weight loss in case of an obese people.
Post polio syndrome is neither a life-threatening disease nor a second attack of poliomyelitis. Always try to consult your doctor at the earliest and don’t let the condition affect the quality of your life.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.