Post-polio syndrome is an illness of the nervous system that occurs 15 to 50 years after a patient has contracted polio. Post-polio syndrome occurs in people who have previously had polio, but it is not a recurrence of the disease. Post-polio syndrome similarly affects the nervous system and muscles. But unlike polio, it does not spread from person to person.
The main symptoms of post-polio syndrome are new muscle weakness, fatigue and pain in muscles not previously affected by the disease. However, the same muscles that experienced nerve damage from polio may also be affected by post-polio syndrome. The same muscles that experienced nerve damage from polio may weaken and waste away as a result of post-polio syndrome.
Very little is known about the causes of post-polio syndrome, but experts believe it stems from polio-related nerve damage that causes muscle wasting. The timing of symptoms varies greatly from patient to patient and may begin to manifest 15 years after a patient has contracted polio.
Risk factors for post-polio syndrome include:
- Previous diagnosis of polio during teen or adult years
- Previous history of breathing problems associated with polio
- Serious, lasting muscle weakness resulting from polio
While most people who have had polio do not contract post-polio syndrome, women are at a higher risk than men.
Doctors identify post-polio syndrome through a patient’s medical history, as well as current signs of illness. Additional medical tests, including electro diagnostics, may eliminate other possible causes for symptoms.
Some people with post-polio syndrome also experience difficulty swallowing, breathing, sleeping and tolerating cold temperatures.