What causes post-polio syndrome?
Several theories have been proposed to explain post-polio symptoms. Currently, the most accepted theory regarding the cause of PPS rests on the idea of degenerating nerve cells. When poliovirus infects your body, it affects certain nerve cells called motor neurons - particularly those in your spinal cord - that carry messages (electrical impulses) between your
brain and your muscles.
As a person ages, injured nerves that were able to regain function may fail again, as may muscles that have been over-worked for years in order to compensate for other paralyzed muscles. Even the uninjured nerves that provided new nerve twigs to the muscles may begin to falter after years of relative over-activity. This theory, then, suggests that the body's ability to compensate for destroyed nerves may eventually begin to fail. The compensating nerves and muscles grow older, and because they've been working so much harder over the years, they wear out relatively sooner than would be expected of normal nerves and muscles. Some researchers look at this situation as a form of premature aging, brought on by overuse.
Other researchers note that normal aging includes the loss of a fair number of motor nerves. When a patient has already lost motor nerves through polio, normal loss of motor nerves through aging may cause the number of remaining working nerves to drop low enough to cause symptoms of weakness.
Other theories of PPS include the possibility that particles of the original polioviruses remain in the body. These particles may exert a negative effect, decades later, or they may cause the body's immune system to produce substances originally intended to fight the invading virus, but which may accidentally set off a variety of reactions within the body that actually serve to interfere with the normal functioning of the nerves and muscles.
Still other researchers are looking at the possibility that polio patients have important spinal cord changes which, over time, affect the nerves responsible for movement.