Post-polio syndrome affects survivors

The World Health Organization estimates there are 20 million people worldwide with some degree of disability caused by poliomyelitis. For years most of these polio survivors lived active lives. They were often able to let their memory of polio recede into the background and considered their health stable.

However, by the late ’70s, polio survivors began to note new problems: fatigue, pain, and additional weakness. By the mid-’80s, health professionals and policymakers recognized these new problems as “Post-Polio Syndrome (PPS)” and to research its effects.

PPS is now estimated to strike 25 per cent of polio survivors, anywhere from 10 to 40 years after their recovery from polio.  It’s the kind of syndome that is difficult to diagnose, and often patients will have to wait until many other potential causes are eliminated. But for those who suffer from PPS it is simply an every day reality.

The symptoms of PPS include:

  • Unaccustomed fatigue – either rapid muscle tiring or feeling of total body exhaustion
  • New weakness in muscles, both those originally affected and those seemingly unaffected
  • &ltli

    Pain in muscles and/or joints
  • Sleeping problems
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Swallowing problems
  • Decreased ability to tolerate cold temperatures
  • Decline in ability to conduct customary daily activities such as walking, bathing, etc.

The good news is that it’s not considered life threatening, is very slow in progressing and is marked by long periods of stability. Symptoms can be managed in a variety of ways – through lifestyle changes, and even yoga.

The bad news is that permanent weakness can occur, which impacts on quality of life. There’s no proven treatment. And for patients who have been through polio, PPS can cause a great deal of anxiety that they have polio again.

Also, a new study from the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, “Women with Polio: Menopause, Late Effects, Life Satisfaction and Emotional Distress,” has found that women with late effects of polio experience menopause differently than their peers. Their findings include:

  • The severity of post-polio symptoms was significantly related to severity of menopause symptoms.
  • Women who were further along in menopause had more severe post-polio symptoms and more difficulty with activities of daily living than did post-polio men of the same age.
  • Hysterectomy rates among women in this study – nearly 35 percent – were significantly higher than the average rate for U.S. women (21 percent).

If you suspect you may have PPS it is important to talk to your family doctor. Not only may another serious condition be the cause of your symptoms, but it is also important to establish a baseline so that you can evaluate future changes. It’s also very important to take care of your health – eat right, avoid weight gain, and stop smoking.