Post-Polio Syndrome

Post-polio syndrome (PPS) is a condition that affects polio survivors anywhere from 10 to 40 years after recovery from an initial paralytic attack of the poliomyelitis virus. PPS is characterized by a further weakening of muscles that were previously affected by the polio infection.

Symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Slowly progressive muscle weakness
  • At times, a decrease in muscle size (muscular atrophy)
  • Joint pain
  • Increasing skeletal deformities such as scoliosis

Some patients experience only minor symptoms, while others develop spinal muscular atrophy, and very rarely, what appears to be, but is not, a form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s disease. PPS is rarely life-threatening.

PPS is a very slowly progressing condition marked by long periods of stability. The severity of PPS depends on the degree of the residual weakness and disability an individual has after the original polio attack. People who had only minimal symptoms from the original attack and subsequently develop PPS will most likely experience only mild PPS symptoms. People originally hit hard by the polio virus, who were left with severe residual weakness, may develop a more severe case of PPS with a greater loss of muscle function, difficulty in swallowing, and more periods of fatigue.

Presently, no prevention has been found. Doctors recommend that polio survivors follow standard healthy lifestyle practices:

  • Consuming a well-balanced diet
  • Exercising in moderation
  • Visiting a doctor regularly

There has been much debate about whether to encourage or discourage exercise for polio survivors or individuals who already have PPS. A commonsense approach, in which people use individual tolerance as their limit, is currently recommended.