What is post-polio syndrome?
Post-polio syndrome is an illness of the nervous system that can appear 15 to 50 years after you had polio. It affects your muscles and nerves, and it causes you to have weakness, fatigue, and muscle or joint pain.
Although post-polio syndrome can make some day-to-day activities more difficult, treatment can help control symptoms and help you stay active. Your symptoms may not get worse for many years. Post-polio syndrome usually progresses very slowly.
Only people who have had polio can get post-polio syndrome. But having post-polio syndrome doesn’t mean that you have polio again. Unlike polio, post-polio syndrome doesn’t spread from person to person.
How common is post-polio syndrome?
The exact incidence and prevalence of PPS is unknown. Accurate statistics do not exist today, as a percentage of polio survivors have died and new cases have been diagnosed. Researchers estimate that the condition affects 25 to 40 percent of polio survivors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of post-polio syndrome?
The common symptoms of post-polio syndrome are:
- Progressive muscle and joint weakness and pain
- General fatigue and exhaustion with minimal activity
- Muscle atrophy
- Breathing or swallowing problems
- Sleep-related breathing disorders, such as sleep apnea
- Decreased tolerance of cold temperatures
In most people, post-polio syndrome tends to progress slowly, with new signs and symptoms followed by periods of stability.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have increasing weakness or fatigue, see your doctor. It’s important to rule out other causes of your signs and symptoms and determine whether you have post-polio syndrome.
What causes post-polio syndrome?
Post-polio syndrome most likely arises from the damage left over from having polio. The polio virus harms the nerves that control muscles, and it makes the muscles weak. If you had polio, you may have gained back the use of your muscles. But the nerves that connect to the muscles could be damaged without your knowing it. The nerves may break down over time and cause you to have weak muscles again.
Researchers are studying other possible causes of post-polio syndrome. One theory is that the immune system plays a role.
What increases my risk for post-polio syndrome?
There are many risk factors for post-polio syndrome, such as:
- Severity of initial polio infection. The more severe the initial infection, the more likely that you’ll have signs and symptoms of post-polio syndrome.
- Age at onset of initial illness. If you developed polio as an adolescent or adult rather than as a child, your chances of developing post-polio syndrome increase.
- The greater your recovery after acute polio, the more likely it seems that post-polio syndrome will develop, perhaps because greater recovery places additional stress on motor neurons.
- Excessive physical activity. If you often exercise to the point of exhaustion or fatigue, you might overwork already stressed-out motor neurons and increase your risk of post-polio syndrome.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is post-polio syndrome diagnosed?
Doctors diagnose post-polio syndrome based on your symptoms, medical history, and lab tests. Your doctor will look at how polio affected you and how well you healed from it. Lab tests will be done to check for other causes of your symptoms. If your symptoms and history point to post-polio syndrome, and if tests cannot find another cause, then your doctor may diagnose post-polio syndrome.
You may need to have more tests or exams if your symptoms change.
How is post-polio syndrome treated?
There’s no one treatment for the various signs and symptoms of post-polio syndrome. The goal of treatment is to manage your symptoms and help make you as comfortable and independent as possible:
- Energy conservation. This involves pacing your physical activity and resting frequently to reduce fatigue. Assistive devices — such as a cane, walker, wheelchair or motor scooter — can help you conserve energy. Having a shower grab bar or raised toilet seat installed also might help. A therapist can show you ways to breathe that help conserve energy.
- Physical therapy. Your doctor or therapist may prescribe exercises for you that strengthen your muscles without fatiguing them. These usually include less strenuous activities, such as swimming or water aerobics, that you perform every other day at a relaxed pace. Exercising to maintain fitness is important, but avoid overusing your muscles and joints and exercising to the point of pain or fatigue.
- Speech therapy. A speech therapist can show you ways to compensate for swallowing difficulties. Voice strengthening exercises might also be helpful.
- Sleep apnea treatment. You might need to change your sleeping patterns, such as avoiding sleeping on your back, or use a device that helps open your airway when you sleep.
- Pain relievers — such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) — might ease muscle and joint pain.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage post-polio syndrome?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with post-polio syndrome:
- Limit activities that cause pain or fatigue. Moderation is key. Overdoing it on a good day can lead to several subsequent bad days.
- Be smart. Conserving your energy through lifestyle modifications and assistive devices doesn’t mean you’re giving in to the illness. It just means you’ve found a smarter way to deal with it.
- Stay warm. Cold increases muscle fatigue. Keep your home at a comfortable temperature and dress in layers, especially when you go out.
- Avoid falls. Get rid of throw rugs and loose clutter on the floor, wear good shoes, and avoid slippery or icy surfaces.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eat a balanced diet, stop smoking and decrease caffeine intake to keep fit, breathe easier and sleep better.
- Protect your lungs. If your breathing is impaired, watch for signs of a developing respiratory infection and have it treated promptly. Don’t smoke, and stay current with your flu and pneumonia vaccines.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Post-polio syndrome. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-polio-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20355669. Accessed December 1, 2017.
Post-Polio Syndrome – Topic Overview. https://www.webmd.com/brain/tc/post-polio-syndrome-topic-overview#1. Accessed December 1, 2017.
Review Date: December 1, 2017 | Last Modified: December 1, 2017