Post-polio syndrome is a rare neurological disease included in the group of motor neuron diseases secondary to an infection.
It is characterized by fatigue, progressive muscle weakness with loss of function, and pain, and that appears exclusively in patients who were infected by the poliovirus between thirty or forty years earlier.
At present, it is estimated that in Spain there are about 300,000 people with polio sequelae.
The post-polio syndrome occurs in 20-80% of people who were affected by polio, it is more common in women, and there is a direct relationship between the risk of suffering from this syndrome and the degree of severity of polio sequelae.
During infection with the poliovirus, many of the neurons of the anterior spinal cord antlers are damaged or destroyed; others survive polio and assume the function of the injured neurons; in this way, the patient regains control of his muscles at the cost of a hyperfunction of the surviving cells.
After a period of between thirty and forty years or even more, these overloaded neurons begin to fail to lead to the onset of the disease.
The restoration of neuronal function may occur a second time in some fibers, but, over time, nerve terminals are destroyed, and the disease becomes permanent.
Evolution of Neurons
Some authors also point out the importance of the normal aging process that, by itself, causes a decrease in the number of neurons with the consequent muscle weakness. This process helps to increase the symptoms of post-polio syndrome. No evidence was found that the syndrome is due to a reactivation of the virus.
Post-polio syndrome can be triggered after a fall, a prolonged rest period, a mild accident, or with the onset of other diseases.
Clinically it manifests itself as a progressive muscular weakness, atrophy of the extremities, of the bulbar innervation muscles and of the respiratory muscles, combined with fatigue, decreased resistance to arthralgia exertion, and asthenia.
Another type of later manifestations may be difficulty swallowing, respiratory problems, speech disorders, and psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and impaired concentration and memory. All this entails a great limitation to perform daily activities, which makes these patients tend to gain weight.
An evolution marks the process in outbreaks, and the severity of the syndrome depends on the severity of the initial polio process: patients who suffered from mild polio will have minimal symptoms if they suffer from post-polio syndrome. In contrast, those who were most severely affected by the virus will have a more acute post-polio syndrome with greater loss of muscle function.
The diagnosis is clinical and is based on the history of polio, a neurological examination, and a series of complementary tests aimed at ruling out other possible causes of disease.
The loss of strength of the patient must also be evaluated over time. For this, nuclear magnetic resonance, muscle biopsy, electrophysiological studies, and cerebrospinal fluid analysis are used.
Generally, post-polio syndrome is not life-threatening, except in those patients who experience acute respiratory deterioration.