Lincolnshire Post-Polio Library - A Service of The Lincolnshire Post-Polio Network
The late effects of Polio Information for Health Care Providers
Charlotte Leboeuf

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Polio was previously considered to be a self-limiting disease, once the acute stage was over. The amount of residual damage determined the degree of recovery, which was thought to be stable once optimum function had been achieved. However, it is now well established that polio has a second, slowly progressive degenerative phase, unrelated to normal ageing. This second phase may become apparent many years after the initial infection.

As time passes, an increasing number of previously "stable" persons with a history of polio infection report unexpected new symptoms. The time lag from the initial infection to the second phase varies but is commonly approximately 30 years.

The onset is usually slow and steady. It may occasionally develop suddenly and progress at an irregular pace. Symptoms sometimes commence after a period of physical or emotional strain, or after a period of immobility (e.g. disease, surgery).

These new symptoms are commonly reported to be:

-   lack of strength and endurance;
-   pain in muscles and/or joints;
-   respiratory problems.

Swallowing and/or speech problems may also be experienced.

This post-polio phenomenon has been described under several names. Some are related to the time factor, such as:

Others refer to one aspect only, e.g. the muscle weakness or the impaired lung function, as in:

The term "late effects of polio" (LEOP) is used throughout this book in order to stress the importance of the time factor, the relationship with polio and the multitude of symptoms which are possible.

The re-appearance of muscle weakness many years after the initial paralytic disease has been documented sporadically in the medical literature for over 100 years without causing widespread interest. A large number of survivors from the epidemics earlier this century are now experiencing new symptoms. This has transformed the problem from an individual predicament to a social concern. During the 1980s there was a marked increase in the number of scientific articles (1) and reports in the popular press (2) on this subject.


  1. Teichoew L. Post-polio: A critical literature review. Box 3874, Station "C", Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1Y 4M5 (1988).
  2. Eulberg MK, Halstead LS, Perry J. Postpolio syndrome: How you can help. Patient Care 1988; June 15:131-69.

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Copyright The Lincolnshire Post-Polio Network 1997 - 2010.

This document comprises an index, foreword, introduction and seventeen other sections or subdocuments. Permission for printing copies is granted only on the basis that ALL sections are printed in their entirety and kept together as a single document.

Document preparation: Chris Salter, Original Think-tank, Cornwall, United Kingdom.
Created: 7th July 1997
Last modification: 20th January 2010.
Last information content change: 6th June 2000

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