What is “Stiff Person Syndrome?” A Recent Study Reveals More

A recent study published in BMC Neurology is revealing more information about an under-diagnosed and poorly understood medical condition called stiff person syndrome. An analysis of several patients that have been diagnosed with the condition have given a team of scientists new insights into the nature of stiff person syndrome. The results of this study suggest that the disease worsens in severity over time.

About Stiff Person Syndrome

Stiff person syndrome is a rare and relatively unknown neurological disorder. As the name implies, the disease is most characterized by stiffness which affects the abdominal muscles which often leads to abnormal changes in posture. The cause of stiff person syndrome remains unknown. About 80 percent of patients have antibodies against the enzyme glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), but not all patients do; most people with these antibodies also do not have the syndrome. Certain genetic factors may increase risk; stiff person syndrome is also rarely associated with lung, breast, and ovarian cancer. Symptoms include muscle spasms and constant contractions leading to stiffness, chronic pain, muscle twitching, difficulty with walking and overall mobility, and lumbar hyperlordosis. Mental health problems may appear as the patient’s mobility declines. Treatment approaches may include muscle relaxants such as diazepam, but the progressive nature of the disease leads to a need to increase dose over time, which can lead to the characteristic harmful side effects of benzodiazepines. To learn more about stiff person syndrome, click here.

About The Study

The study included a total of 57 patients with stiff person syndrome. Of this group, 32 of them were evaluated over a two year period in order to monitor progression of the disease. The researchers found that patients were generally able to walk during the first two years, but subsequent follow-up found that 80 percent of patients lost their walking ability later on, even when symptomatic medications were being actively used.

The researchers also found that the initial symptom that patients reported was leg stiffness; this stiffness then spread to the truncal muscles and was often accompanied by painful muscle spasms. These findings confirm the progressive nature of stiff person syndrome as well as the grim reality that it eventually leads to disability as it progresses.

 


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