What is PPS?

Post-polio syndrome (PPS), a serious neuromuscular condition that can strike an estimated 40-50 percent of people 10-40 years after they were first infected with poliovirus. Characterized by extreme fatigue and further weakness or paralysis in the limbs, PPS is often misdiagnosed because its symptoms resemble other crippling neurodegenerative diseases.

The severity of paralysis during the original polio infection (decades earlier) does not seem to play in role in whether or when PPS strikes. In fact, it is not uncommon for PPS to develop in people who had such a mild case of polio that they did not even know they acquired the virus in their younger years.

Typically gradual in its onset, PPS mimics other debilitating diseases, and because there is no single diagnostic test to confirm it, it is considered a disease of exclusion – meaning it requires specialized testing by well-trained physicians who rule out all other possibilities to achieve a proper diagnosis. That diagnostic complexity and confusion, coupled with the fact that the U.S. polio survivor population is now elderly (or close to it), has relegated the PPS community to relative obscurity.

Presently, no prevention has been found. Treatment of PPS focuses on managing the signs and symptoms of the condition and improving patients’ quality of life. Doctors recommend that polio survivors follow standard healthy lifestyle practices: consuming a well-balanced diet, exercising in moderation, and 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.

The World Health Organization estimates there are about 10-20 million polio survivors worldwide, 750,000 of them living in the United States.