Post-polio syndrome

During the early part of the twentieth century polio was one of the most worrisome diseases in America. The reason for this fear was the fact that polio could cause some patients to experience paralysis in their lower bodies, full body paralysis, or even death. While many of the polio infections caused no symptoms at all, this can change with the virus gets into the bloodstream. In the most common form of polio, the spinal cord was attacked by inflammation caused from this disease. It would most commonly affect young children, and this was another reason why it was so dreaded. However, post-polio syndrome is a problem where those affected with the polio virus when they were young exhibit no symptoms until much later in life after the initial infection has already run its course.

The average age of a person who might experience post-polio syndrome ranges from around thirty to forty five years old. Some common symptoms of people who might be experiencing this problem include atrophy in the leg muscles, problems swallowing, a chronic progression of pain in the joints and muscles, difficulty breathing while sleeping (sleep apnea), generalized fatigue that occurs often even with no clear exertion of energy, and experiencing extreme discomfort (or even pain) when in colder climates. These symptoms may appear slowly over time, and can be followed by periods where no new symptoms appear or the problem stabilizes and then progresses later.

It is unclear to many doctors what causes so many of these problems associated with post-polio syndrome to appear so long after the initial infection. One theory that many researchers work from is the fact that polio itself causes nerve cell damage and degeneration. The virus attacks the nerve cells in your spinal cord that are responsible for conducting messages between the muscles in the body and the brain. These cells are the lifeline that connects these two items, and when the virus attacks them, your body cannot communicate with the muscles, and this can lead to paralysis.

When someone is infected with polio the neurons end up becoming severely damaged (or even destroyed completely) this causes a change among the other neurons in the spinal cord and they grow new fibers to connect themselves, and they enlarge themselves. It is believed that this added stress to the body have having to compensate for the missing neurons is what eventually causes post-polio syndrome. The cells in the body might also be suffering from an autoimmune response in which the body perceives these enlarged, but normally functioning cells as outside forces and attack them. One last reason that this disease might affect people later in life is the fact that the virus could linger in your spinal cord for an extended period of time without causing any damage, only reactivating itself later on in life.

There are some risk factors that are commonly associated with post-polio syndrome that you should be aware of. For example, if you initially had a fairly severe case of polio, were affected with the disease when you were an adolescent or young adult, had a high recovery level, and often perform high levels of physical activity, then it is far more likely that you are going to have a problem with post-polio syndrome later in life. This is why it is important that if you have any of these risk factors and are experiencing muscle loss and constant fatigue and have had polio earlier in your life, that you consult a doctor about the problem.

While post-polio syndrome is not likely to be a problem that can cause death, it can give you problems with malnutrition, dehydration, increased risk of pneumonia, greater probability of falling and injuring yourself, osteoporosis, and respiratory failure. If your doctor can make the diagnosis of post-polio syndrome it may help you to overcome some of these complications.

Last updated on Nov 27th, 2009 and filed under Other Conditions & Diseases. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

1 Response for “Post-polio syndrome”

  1. Chemist says:

    I was so pleased to see a programme about PPS. It is important to raise awareness, not only to inform the general public, but also, surprisingly, to GPs and health care workers.

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