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Arch Neurol. 2001 Sep;58(9):1438-42.

Diphtheritic polyneuropathy: clinical analysis of severe forms.

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Institute of Neurology, Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, Volokolamskoye Shosse 80, 123367 Moscow, Russia.



Diphtheritic polyneuropathy (DP) is a dangerous complication of diphtheria, especially its severe forms with bulbar, respiratory tract, and circulatory disturbances. However, the clinical picture of severe forms of DP is practically unknown.


To investigate the clinical features and peculiarities of the course of severe forms of DP.


Thirty-two patients with severe forms of DP.


The first symptoms of DP developed in most patients 3 to 5 weeks after the onset of diphtheria. The cranial nerves were involved in all patients, most frequently nerves IX and X (32 patients); VII (28 patients); III, IV, and VI (27 patients); and XI (27 patients). One third of the patients had quadriplegia. The remaining patients had quadripareses. Of the 32 patients, 24 underwent artificial ventilation. All patients had sensory signs, proprioceptive more often than superficial. Autonomic disturbances were observed also in all patients. Only 2 of the 32 patients died.


A direct indication for tracheotomy and artificial ventilation in patients with DP is a decrease of the vital capacity of the lungs below the traditional 16 mL/kg body weight or the development of the paralytic closure of the larynx against the background of the increasing weakness of the respiratory muscles. Characteristic of severe forms of DP is the phenomenon of the oppositely directed change in the neurological symptoms in the second month of the disease: the restoration of the function of the cranial nerves against the background of the further increase of the motor disturbances in the extremities and trunk. Special attention and care should be taken of patients during the period of the appearance of the episodes of vascular collapses-between the fourth and seventh weeks of DP.

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