Post-Polio Syndrome

  1. Post-Polio Syndrome 
  2. What Causes Post-Polio Syndrome?
  3. What are the symptoms of Post-Polio Syndrome?
  4. Contact your doctor if you . . .
  5. Your medical care should include . . .
  6. Who is at risk of developing Post-Polio Syndrome?
  7. Ways to help yourself

1.  Post-Polio Syndrome

In the 1950's, there were 3,645 reported cases of polio in Manitoba. Most of these people survived with varying degrees of disability. At the time, it was thought that once the person had the initial stage of paralysis, the disease was stabilized. However, in recent years, many polio survivors have started to experience new polio related symptoms

Post-Polio Syndrome can develop slowly. General symptoms include muscle pain and fatigue, joint pain, loss of endurance and for some, respiratory and swallowing problems.

2.  What Causes Post-Polio Syndrome

There is no evidence that the reactivation of the polio virus can occur. Both polio affected and non-affected muscles and nerves have had to work harder than normal to perform your usual activities since your recovery from the initial onset of polio. Over time this may result in exhaustion of the remaining muscles.

Loss of motor neurons is a normal aging process. This normal aging process may cause a greater change, perhaps a decrease in function in people like yourself, because polio has already claimed some of your neurons.

3.  What are the symptoms of Post-Polio Syndrome?

General symptoms of Post-Polio are experienced in varying degrees. Their progression can be insidious. They should not be dismissed simply as signs of aging alone. Current research indicates that the length of time one has lived with the residuals of polio is as much of a risk factor as chronological age. It also appears that individuals who experienced the most severe original paralysis with the greatest functional recovery are having more problems now than others with less severe original involvement.

While symptoms vary from person to person, they may include . . .

  • Neuromuscular symptoms: new weakness, fatigue;
  • Activity endurance greatly reduced;
  • Musculoskeletal symptoms: muscle pain, joint pain;
  • Respiratory symptoms: shortness of breath, frequent pneumonia, morning headaches and loss of concentration;
  • Sleep disturbances;
  • Swallowing symptoms: Difficulty swallowing, coughing attacks with eating or drinking;
  • Extreme sensitivity to cold.
4.  Contact your doctor if you . . .
  • Suspect you may have Post-Polio Syndrome;
  • Have either an insidious or dramatic weakness in muscles, and/or loss of function or endurance;
  • Have swollen feet, polio feet (lack of muscle tone, pooling of blood). Possible causes are use of abdominal corset/corselet brace that constricts blood vessels in upper thigh or leg, or early sign of pulmonary/heart problems;
  • Have joint and muscle pain. This may be caused by overuse or misalignment of limbs;
  • Have frequent chest infections and colds.
5.  Your medical care should include . . .
  • A visit to your family doctor for assessment to determine if the problem is polio related. Visit should include history and physical examination;
  • Referral to a specialist if the problem is suspected to be polio related;
  • Medical investigation appropriate to the symptom (weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath or sleep disturbances, swallowing disorders);
  • Treatment as required;
  • Periodic follow-up to determine if problem is progressing.
6.  Who is at risk of developing Post-Polio Syndrome?

You may be at greater risk if you are a polio survivor who . . .

  • Had polio onset during or after adolescence;
  • Required an iron lung or rocking bed;
  • Had paralysis of leg muscles;
  • Had problems swallowing or had paralysis of vocal chords.
7.  Ways to help yourself
  • Pace yourself - avoid getting overtired;
  • Moderate exercise under the supervision of a physiatrist or physiotherapist;
  • Avoid getting chilled;
  • Eat a well-balanced diet - maintain a desirable weight;
  • Have a positive attitude towards your health;
  • Accept changes in your lifestyle;
  • Join a Post-Polio support group;
  • Educate your physician about the late effects you are experiencing;
  • Work together with your physician to find the most effective management plan.