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Post-polio Syndrome

Definition

Post-polio syndrome (PPS) is a condition that affects polio survivors. It can lead to muscle weakness and joint pain. It can happen 10 to 40 years after having polio.

Causes

The exact cause of PPS is unknown. It may be due to nerve and muscle damage from the original polio infection.

Risk Factors

PPS is more common in women. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Previous polio
  • Severe original polio
  • Older age during infection

Symptoms

Symptoms may be:

  • Feeling tired
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle pain, twitches, or cramps
  • Problems swallowing or breathing
  • High sensitivity to heat or cold
  • Voice changes
  • Problems focusing
  • Swelling in lower limbs

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may check reflexes, muscles, and nerves. PPS may be hard to diagnose.

Tests are used to rule out other conditions. They may include:

  • Electromyography—measures how well nerves and muscles work together
  • Nerve conduction velocity—to check for nerve injury
  • MRI scan—to look at body structures
  • Muscle biopsy—to rule out other conditions

Treatment

The goal is ease symptoms and help the person function better.

Options may be:

  • Assistive devices
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Weight loss, if overweight
  • Medicines to ease muscle spasms, pain, and depression
  • Occasionally, surgery—to correct conditions that impair function

Prevention

There are no current guidelines to prevent PPS.

RESOURCES:

March of Dimes
http://www.marchofdimes.org

Post-Polio Health International
http://www.post-polio.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

When It Hurts to Move—Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
http://whenithurtstomove.org

REFERENCES:

Lo JK, Robinson LR. Postpolio syndrome and the late effects of poliomyelitis. Part 1. pathogenesis, biomechanical considerations, diagnosis, and investigations. Muscle Nerve. 2018;58(6):751-759.

Postpolio syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/postpolio-syndrome Accessed April 1, 2021.

Post-polio syndrome fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Post-Polio-Syndrome-Fact-Sheet. Accessed April 1, 2021.

What is post-polio syndrome? Post-Polio Health International website. Available at: https://post-polio.org/education/what-is-post-polio-syndrome/. Accessed April 1, 2021.

Last reviewed December 2020 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 4/1/2021