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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1995 May 25;753:1-10.

Clinical observations on acute poliomyelitis.

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Department of Neurology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota 55905, USA.


During the years of the polio epidemics, most patients with the poliovirus had little or no paralysis. In those with paralytic polio, the extent of involvement of the anterior horn cells was often underestimated. Thus, patients with post-polio syndrome now often report that a limb was uninvolved; however, the original record will show clear evidence of initial paralysis that improved so that the patient no longer recognized the weakness. The epidemics were associated with great anxiety involving the patients, their families and all of society. Treatment was for the most part ineffective and was sometimes confused or inappropriate. Patients developed coping techniques that have been singularly useful and effective. These coping techniques often include strategies that require maximal athletic development of little-used muscles. The coping techniques developed by post-polio patients would be of great benefit to patients with other forms of disability. Review of the medical histories, biographies, and autobiographies of patients who had severe disability because of poliomyelitis reveals that they adopted firm convictions about their disease and their recovery. We must be aware of these convictions if we are to treat their later disabilities. These convictions include the belief that their condition can only improve, that their improvement is related primarily to the willingness of the patient to engage in exercise, and that improvement is more a thing of the spirit than of medication. Associated with this conviction is denial--often concurred with by the family--of the extent of the disability. Furthermore, the confusion of physicians that patients witnessed during the great epidemics suggests to patients that physicians can be of little help to them now. Convictions that were invaluable to patients who were young and vigorous become a liability when aging and progressive weakness supervene. Patients who had adapted to muscle weakness through great physical and emotional effort are unable to continue functions they had regained. However, such patients cannot accept that they do not continue to improve. Some become depressed, but this is unusual.

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