As many as 500,000 people in the United States are affected by post-polio syndrome (PPS), a condition affecting polio survivors years after recovering from a poliomyelitis virus attack. The disorder weakens muscles that the polio infection previously afflicted and also muscles that had no prior weakness. Patients who had a bad case of the original polio tend to have worse symptoms than those whose polio was mild.
Post-polio syndromes symptoms include progressive muscle weakness, tiredness muscle fatigue and, less commonly, atrophy. Patients’ joints may degenerate, and skeletal deformities like scoliosis can also occur. While PPS is not contagious or life threatening, weak swallowing muscles can lead to aspiration pneumonia. Untreated respiratory weakness can also result in hypoventilation, a deficiency in the amount of air circulating through the lungs with a resulting buildup of carbon dioxide. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy resolves this by enabling lungs to take in oxygen at a much higher rate than simply breathing in air normally.
In controlled studies, researchers have tried at least five pharmaceutical drugs to treat PPS, but none of these showed any significant effect. To date, no medications have been found to successfully treat the syndrome. Doctors usually advise PPS patients to complete non-fatiguing exercises to improve muscle strength.
Researchers believe that the future of PPS treatment may center on nerve growth factors. Since post-polio syndrome can result from degenerating nerve sprouts, growth factors can target these and help to regenerate new nerves. Glial cells surround neurons and hold them in place, carry oxygen and nutrients
to neurons, insulate neurons from one another, and destroy and carry away cellular debris. HBOT enhances the proliferation of glial cell line-derived neurotrophic nerve growth factor and boosts the formation of new neural pathways.
Ongoing research indicates that intravenous immunoglobulin may also improve muscle strength, in addition to reducing pain, and increasing quality of life. Immunoglobulins are antibodies, glycoprotein molecules that the white blood cells produce to fight off viral and bacterial infections. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy boosts white blood cells to enhance the immune system. It increases the efficiency of certain antibiotics and also encourages production of superoxide dismutase (SOD), an antioxidant that helps decrease inflammation and reduce free radicals in cells. HBOT’s high oxygen levels allow PPTpatients to reduce their symptoms.
After a course of 20-40 hyperbaric oxygen treatments, periodic HBOT sessions may be required to maintain initial progress. And many post-polio syndrome patients find they are able to resume a nearly normal activity level.
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