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Acute Flaccid Myelitis

Condition Basics

What is acute flaccid myelitis?

Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is a rare condition that affects the spinal cord. It causes certain muscles and reflexes in the body to stop working normally.

What causes it?

Experts are still doing research to find the exact cause of AFM. It may be linked to certain viruses. This includes the West Nile virus and ones that can cause other illnesses, such as colds or rashes.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptom is weakness in one or more arms or legs, with a loss of muscle tone and reflexes. Other symptoms may include:

  • Drooping or weakness in the face or eyes.
  • Trouble swallowing.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Pain in the neck, back, arms, or legs.

Symptoms of acute flaccid myelitis usually come on suddenly.

Severe cases may cause respiratory failure, since the condition may affect muscles used for breathing.

How is it diagnosed?

A doctor will do a physical exam to check for weakness, such as in the arms and legs. And you will have an MRI to check your spinal cord. You may also have other tests, such as tests to check the spinal fluid.

How is acute flaccid myelitis treated?

There is no cure for acute flaccid myelitis. But doctors can give treatment to help manage the symptoms. You may get physical or occupational therapy to help regain function in your arms and legs. If you have severe AFM that causes problems breathing, you may need care in the hospital.

How can you protect yourself?

You can take steps to help protect yourself and your family from viruses and infections that may be linked to acute flaccid myelitis. Get vaccinations. And use insect repellent to avoid infections transmitted by mosquitoes. Also, wash your hands often with soap and water.

Credits

Current as of: December 13, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine

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