PPS - the post-polio syndrome

As a child, suffering from poliomyelitis, also known as poliomyelitis, was a terrible experience for many sufferers. The viral disease, which affects the nervous system and leads to paralysis of the arms and legs as well as the respiratory system, had led to millions of illnesses worldwide in the 50s and 60s. Well over 100 sufferers died each year alone in Germany.

Decline of polio by vaccination

It was not until 1955 introduced vaccination against polio caused the decline of the disease. By vaccination, the World Health Organization wants to completely eradicate the disease. However, initial successes are currently being challenged by vaccine fatigue and political boycott in some developing countries.

After-effects often take many years to complete

Many of the formerly polio sufferers survived their illness well and lead a life without complications. But for almost 80, 000 people in Germany, this is not the case: they are suffering from the long-term consequences of their disease, the post-polio syndrome (PPS).

Although it was reported in France in 1875 about the long-term consequences of a polio disease, these and other information from the Netherlands and Spain were completely forgotten. The almost complete eradication of poliomyelitis in Europe has also led to the disease being almost completely forgotten by physicians and doctors.

Symptoms of post-polio syndrome

The general symptoms of long-term consequences are:

  • Excessive tiredness that can not be explained by physical exertion
  • Loss of strength and endurance
  • Pain in the muscles and / or joints
  • Problems with breathing, swallowing and speaking

Diagnosis often very tedious

These symptoms only reappear after a long time - speaking of periods between 10 and 20 years. Because the knowledge about the acute illness is barely present, also the knowledge about their late consequences is missing. Patients visiting a doctor 30 years after a polio outbreak with severe signs of fatigue and joint pain often need patience until a diagnosis is made.

The diagnosis of post-polio syndrome (PPS) is difficult. Two prerequisites for the diagnosis must be given in any case:

  • The patient must have had polio disease
  • he must have been symptom free for at least 10 years

Causes of PPS unclear

The causes of the long-term consequences, which can occur with varying degrees of severity depending on the patient, are still being heavily speculated. One thesis is that the sequelae is due to a second, slowly progressive degeneration phase, which occurs many years after the original infection. It is also discussed whether the virus remains in the nerve cells and, for reasons yet to be explained, years later becomes active again.

It is also possible that another viral infection leads to the onset of the disease in a more attenuated form, which is then not contagious. Various studies currently indicate that the immune status of patients has changed after a polio disease has gone through and that post-polio patients are more likely to develop inflammatory processes in the muscle tissue.

In addition, it is known that the muscles of polio patients tire more and more intense and need much longer recovery periods than in non-patients. For those affected, it is particularly important that their complaints are not dismissed as degenerative signs of aging - even if the age of most patients allows this idea. Anyone who knows that he had polio as a child should immediately inform his doctor. Diagnosis may then become easier.

Therapy of post-polio syndrome

The treatment of the complaints is as individual as the different symptoms of the individual sufferers. In general, the following points must be noted:

  • Protection of the attacked muscles
  • possibly change of working and living environment
  • Vitamin D
  • targeted physiotherapy for relief
  • Respiratory therapy and support of the chewing and swallowing functions
  • Generally healthy diet and adequate sleep

For many patients, the long-term consequences are an extremely painful reminder of a dramatic illness that can only be completely eradicated if it is vaccinated nationwide against polio. There is no other protection against the disease - and its long-term consequences.

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