What You Need to Know About Primary Periodic Paralysis

1. Rare Neuromuscular Disease

Primary periodic paralysis (PPP) is group of rare neuromuscular diseases characterized by disrupted communication between nerves cells and skeletal muscles. PPP is a result of failures in elector-chemical signals as they are either emitted or received. When signals are disrupted, as can occur chronically, skeletal muscles may become unable to respond. The result is either weakness or inability to move. Such events may be referred to as paralytic attacks.

2. Multiple Forms

Two major types of primary periodic paralysis exist. Hyperkalemic (or high-potassium), and hypokalemic (low potassium). The types of PPP have been so named as a result of noticeable changes in blood levels of potassium during attacks.

3. Causes and Inheritance

Primary periodic paralysis is most commonly an inherited condition. In exceptional cases it occurs sporadically, or without identifiable cause. In the United States PPP is estimated to affect people at a rate of about 1 in every 67,000 people. 5000 to 6000 cases nationwide are thought to exist nationwide. Attacks can appear at any age. Most commonly, attacks are observed before the age of 20.

4. Difficult Diagnosis

Finding a doctor who is familiar primary periodic paralysis is crucial when seeking diagnosis. Symptoms of PPP are often confused for other condition that cause weakness or muscle degeneration. Many of these disease are far more common than PPP. As a result, finding an accurate diagnosis can be time consuming, and exhausting. Advocacy groups recommend scheduling appointments with neurologists or physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians who specialize in neuromuscular conditions.

In pursuing a proper diagnosis of PPP it will be important to provide information about family history. Physicians will also need to locate the area of skeletal muscle affected, and what triggers cause paralytic attacks. Blood tests may be necessary to measure hormone levels and electrolytes. Muscle function tests, and genetic testing can prove equally important in defining a diagnosis.

5. Dietary Changes

The recognition, and future avoidance of specific triggers is often the first and most essential form of treatment. Dietary supplements may aid some suffering from primary periodic paralysis. Hypokalemic patients may benefit from the addition of a potassium supplement. Hyperkalemic patients may find relief from food high in carbohydrates, and a mild exercise regimen. When attacks are known to be serve or imminently threatening, prior planning is essential and medical assistance may be necessary.

What’s Next?

For more information on Primary Periodic Paralysis, visit the American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine. More specific information regarding both hyperkalemic and hypokalemic forms of PPP can be found through the Genetic Home Reference of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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