Post Polio Syndrome can mask life threatening health problems like heart disease
By Stephen Pate – Post Polio Syndrome can dominate your life but it may not be your only health problem. In fact, post polio can mask life threatening health issues. Pain, muscle weakness, fatigue and sleep disorders are common to Post-Polio and a number of other conditions.
According to the Mayo clinic, “common signs and symptoms of post-polio syndrome include: progressive muscle and joint weakness and pain. general fatigue and exhaustion with minimal activity, muscle atrophy, breathing or swallowing problems, sleep-related breathing disorders, such as sleep apnea and decreased tolerance of cold temperatures. In most people, post-polio syndrome tends to progress slowly, with new signs and symptoms followed by periods of stability.”
When someone gets Post Polio Syndrome they and their doctors can tend to blame everything else on PPS. That may seem logical but it can be wrong.
“As a post-polio survivor I have been fooled more than once,” wrote Bruce Lambert in “Is It Post-Polio or Something Else” Post Polio Health “My doctors too, even the good ones.”
The devilish thing is that Post-Polio is often misdiagnosed as something else – aging, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or a number of conditions with weakening muscles and persistent pain. However, once Post-Polio Syndrome is confirmed, it becomes the reason for every new symptom. We want to believe that because that simplifies life.
In Bruce Lambert’s story, a new groin pain was not Post Polio: it was spinal arthritis which took multiple MRI’s and X-rays to diagnose.
Coronary Heart Disease and Post Polio
Fatigue and shortness of breath are also signs of coronary heart disease or CHD. Arteries clogged with cholesterol reduce the amount of oxygen in the blood and create weakness, shortness of breath and muscle pain in the extremities like arms and legs.
Fatigue is symptomatic of a Post-Polio diagnosis. Certainly PPS can also contribute to deconditioning and more weakness. However, the cause of new weakness and pain may be “cardiovascular disease…caused by narrowed, blocked or stiffened blood vessels that prevent your heart, brain or other parts of your body from receiving enough blood” Mayo Clinic
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Getting a proper diagnosis before a heart attack is better than after. First, some heart attacks kill you without warning. Secondly, even if you survive a heart attack, the recovery process is long and slow.
If you find it hard to climb a ladder or do tasks that previously were possible, you may have CHD and be a heart attack candidate. See your doctor and get your cholesterol, blood pressure and other indicators checked.
The traditional tests for heart attack or CHD are poor predictors of heart attacks. Everyone knows someone who passed their stress test and died within months from a massive fatal heart attack. There is a new test that can more accurately predict you heart condition called the Coronary Calcium Scan. Like an MRI, it can predict if you have a build-up of plaque in your arteries and risk a heart attack.
“A coronary calcium scan is a fairly simple test. You’ll lie quietly in the scanner machine for about 10 minutes while it takes pictures of your heart. The pictures will show whether you have calcifications in your coronary arteries.
A coronary calcium scan is most useful for people who are at moderate risk for heart attacks. You or your doctor can calculate your 10-year risk using the Risk Assessment Tool(link is external) from the National Cholesterol Education Program.”
If you have Post Polio Syndrome and dependant on a wheelchair or crutches for mobility, it is highly likely you are at risk. Our bodies are meant to be in motion and that becomes more difficult for PPS survivors. There are things you can do to avoid a heart attack like take statins and blood pressure medications, get rid of the stress in your life, lose weight to shed those dangerous extra pounds and try to get into an exercise program.
Image credit – Barry Considine (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
For more information on coronary calcium scan, see the documentary “The Widowmaker” available on Netflix and other sites.