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Post-Polio Syndrome


 What is post-polio syndrome?
 How does it occur?
 What are the symptoms?
 How is it diagnosed?
 How is it treated?
 How long will the effects last?
 How can I take care of myself?

What is post-polio syndrome?

If you have had polio, post-polio syndrome (PPS) is a condition that you can have 10 to 40 years later. PPS causes muscle weakness and tiredness. About 25% of polio survivors develop PPS.

Polio was a terrible viral disease in the 1900s up through the 1950s. Since then polio vaccination has almost eliminated polio worldwide. The last outbreak in the US was in 1954. However, many people who survived the disease have suffered the aftereffects of polio and disability—a medical problem now recognized as post-polio syndrome.

How does it occur?

The cause of PPS is not completely understood. The original poliovirus infection attacked nerve cells responsible for muscle movement. The virus damaged or destroyed some of these nerve cells. Surviving nerve cells grew extra branches. The branches attached to muscles that had lost their original nerve supply during the polio infection. After the new nerves attached, the muscles were able to work again. Some researchers think these extra nerve branches weaken over time. The muscle then loses its ability to move properly.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of PPS are:

Tiring easily and feeling weak are more common symptoms than pain.

How is it diagnosed?

A history of polio and your symptoms since then are important in the diagnosis.

Very few lab tests point directly to PPS. Most testing is done to check for other diseases that can cause weakness and tiredness. For PPS, your healthcare provider will test your muscles, checking for a pattern of weakness that is typical of PPS. You may also have other tests such as:

How is it treated?

Doctors don’t yet know how to cure or prevent PPS. Many unproven treatments are being tried in the hope that they will have some effect.

Electronic nerve stimulation devices (TENS) may help relieve pain. Heavy use of muscles and massage may have been harmful for you during the active poliovirus infection. However, it may be helpful for post-polio syndrome.

If you needed a ventilator during the original polio infection, you may need to use some sort of breathing assistance machine (CPAP, BPAP, or even a new ventilator) to help you breathe.

Future PPS treatment may focus on helping the nerves grow new branches.

How long will the effects last?

PPS worsens very slowly. There may be long periods of time when it does not get worse. PPS usually is not life threatening unless it starts causing severe lung problems.

How can I take care of myself?

You can get more information from:

healthinformatics info

Reference Sources:

"Post-Polio Syndrome Fact Sheet." National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). NIH Publication No. 06-4030, 22 Oct. 2010. Web. Accessed Nov. 2010. <http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/post_polio/detail_post_polio.htm>.

Agre JC. The role of exercise in the patient with post-polio syndrome. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1995 May 25;753:321-34.

Bamford CR, EB Montgomery Jr, JE Munoz, et al. Post-polio syndrome--response to deprenyl (selegiline). Int J Neurosci 71 (1993): 183-188.

Chan KM, Amirjani N, Sumrain M, et al. Randomized controlled trial of strength training in post-polio patients. Muscle Nerve 2003; 27:332.

Dalakas MC. The post-polio syndrome as an evolved clinical entity: Definition and clinical description.  Ann N Y Acad Sci 753 (1995): 68-80.

Farbu E, NE Gilhus, MP Barnes, et al. EFNS guideline on diagnosis and management of post-polio syndrome. Report of an EFNS task force. Eur J Neurol 13 (2006): 795-801.

Koopman FS, Uegaki K, Gilhus NE, Beelen A, de Visser M, Nollet F

Murray B, Mitsumoto H. Chapter 74 - Disorders of Upper and Lower Motor Neurons; in Daroff RB et al, eds: Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice, 6th ed.; Elsevier, 2012. Accessed via MDConsult, March 18, 2013.

SO. Treatment for postpolio syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011.

Weisberg SS. Polio. Dis Mon 23 (2007): 503-509.


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Last Modified: 2013-08-09

Last Reviewed: 2013-03-18

Website Updated: March 2014

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This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.


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