Long-Term Care

Postpolio syndrome and common symptoms

LTC Nursing Assistant Trainer, October 7, 2010

Polio was one of the most feared diseases of the first half of the twentieth century. Then, in 1955, a breakthrough occurred when the Salk vaccine was shown to be effective in preventing the disease, and widespread immunization was performed. Today, polio has all but disappeared from the United States. Unfortunately, its legacy remains in the form of postpolio syndrome (PPS). It is estimated that there are 600,000 polio survivors living in the United States, and the number worldwide is estimated in the tens of millions.

PPS is a neurologic disorder characterized by increased weakness/abnormal muscle fatigue in individuals who had paralytic polio many years earlier. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Fatigue that is sometimes overwhelming or debilitating.
  • New joint and muscle pain; this may be accompanied by muscle and joint instability.
  • New weakness in muscles affected by polio; sometimes muscles that were not known to be damaged in the original infection are also affected. The new weakness is commonly asymmetric.
  • New dyspnea and other respiratory problems in those who had bulbar or upper spinal polio; some problems are so severe that the individual must return to using a respirator.
  • Severe cold intolerance, even with mild cold exposure. This results in worsening of muscle weakness, marked discoloration (usually pale or cyanotic), and palpable coldness of the extremities, accompanied by burning pain. The problem tends to worsen with age.
  • New muscle atrophy.
  • Fasciculation, muscle spasms, and cramps; these can be quite severe and painful at times.
  • Dysphagia.

This is an excerpt from the HCPro book, The Long-Term Care Nursing Desk Reference, Second Edition, by Barbara Acello, MS, RN.

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