Hesperian Health Guides
What Other Disabilities Can Be Confused with Polio?
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- Sometimes cerebral palsy can be mistaken for polio—especially cerebral palsy of the ‘floppy’ type.
However, cerebral palsy usually affects the body in typical patterns
|all 4 limbs||
||arm and leg on same side||both legs|
Polio has a more irregular pattern of paralysis:
In cerebral palsy, usually you can find other signs of brain damage: over-active knee jerks and abnormal reflexes, developmental delay, awkward or uncontrolled movement, or at least some muscle tenseness (spasticity).
- In muscular dystrophy, paralysis begins little by little and steadily gets worse.
- Hip problems can cause limping, and muscles may become thin and weak. Check hips for pain or dislocations.
Note: Dislocated hip may also occur secondary to polio.
- Clubbed foot is present from birth.
- ‘Erb’s palsy’, or partial paralysis in one arm and hand, comes from birth injury to the shoulder.
- Leprosy. Foot and hand paralysis begins gradually in older child. Often there are skin patches and loss of feeling.
- Spina bifida is present from birth. There is reduced feeling in the feet, and often a lump (or scar from surgery) on the back.
Note: Polio can occur before or after a child has any of these other problems. Check carefully.
Always examine the back in a child with paralysis of the legs, and check for feeling.
- Injuries to the spinal cord or to particular nerves going to the arms
or legs. There is usually a history of a severe back or neck injury, and loss of feeling in the paralyzed part.
- Tuberculosis of the spine can cause gradual or suddenly increasing paralysis of the lower body. Look for typical bump on spine.
- Other causes of paralysis or muscle weakness. There are many causes of floppy paralysis similar to polio. One of the most common is ‘Guillain-Barre’ paralysis. This can result from a virus infection, from poisoning, or from unknown causes. It usually begins without warning in the legs, and may spread within a few days to paralyze the whole body. Sometimes feeling is also reduced. Usually strength slowly returns, partly or completely, in several weeks or months. Rehabilitation and prevention of secondary problems are basically the same as for polio.