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Post-Polio Syndrome

Have you survived polio? Do you know someone who has? There are about a million polio survivors living in Michigan today. Although some people think that polio does not exist anymore, there are many unvaccinated children and adults throughout the world who are only a plane ride away from bringing it back into the United States.

There are long-term physical consequences to having had polio. Fatigue, new weakness in muscles whether affected or unaffected by polio, muscular and joint pain, sleeping problems, respiratory issues and cold intolerance are characteristic. These symptoms affect your ability to carry on activities of daily living. 

What causes the late effects of polio? Polio caused injury to the central nervous system, damaging the anterior horn cells in the spinal cord. Although not fully understood, it is believed that the motor neurons that replaced those damaged by the initial virus are now dying off as part of the aging process. Because the polio survivor lived with fewer neurons, those that sprouted to compensate for the lost neurons are now gone and those left are compromised. Other theories include diminished muscle contractions due to size of nerve terminals or an abnormality in the reticular activating system in the brain that occurred during the acute phase of polio.

Diagnosing post-polio syndrome (PPS) is one of exclusion and specific criteria must be met:

  1. a prior diagnosis of polio with motor neuron loss;
  2. a period of partial or complete recovery;
  3. persistent weakness progressing gradually over months or years;
  4. symptoms persist for at least a year and 5. exclusion of other neuromuscular, medical and orthopedic problems.

There are no effective pharmaceutical or scientific treatments for PPS. Although there is no cure, there are recommended management strategies. Seek medical advice from a physician experienced in post-polio. There are two clinics in Michigan that specialize in treating post-polio. One is in Warren, MI and the other in Ann Arbor. All signs and symptoms do not relate to polio. Exercise wisely, use ventilator equipment, and revise how you perform your daily activities. Avoid activities that cause pain or fatigue that lasts more than ten minutes. Pace daily activities to avoid rapid muscle tiring and total body exhaustion. Attend support groups that meet regularly throughout Michigan. All polio survivors undergoing surgery need special precautions to avoid potential problems with breathing and weakness.  Neither SUCCINYL CHOLINE anesthetics nor depolarizing agents should ever be used in polio survivors.

There is no way to prevent the deterioration of the surviving neurons. Recommendations include getting a proper amount of sleep, eating a well balanced diet, avoiding unhealthy habits, and following an exercise program. Lifestyle changes, the use of assistive devices and taking certain anti-inflammatory medications may help some of the symptoms of PPS.

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