Doctors often recognize polio by symptoms, such as neck and back stiffness, abnormal reflexes, and difficulty swallowing and breathing. To confirm the diagnosis, a sample of throat secretions, stool or a colorless fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid) is checked for poliovirus.
Because no cure for polio exists, the focus is on increasing comfort, speeding recovery and preventing complications. Supportive treatments include:
- Pain relievers
- Portable ventilators to assist breathing
- Moderate exercise (physical therapy) to prevent deformity and loss of muscle function
Preparing for your appointment
Call your primary care doctor if you've recently returned from travel abroad and develop symptoms similar to those that occur with polio. Here's some information to help you get ready for your visit.
What you can do
When you make your appointment, ask if there's anything you need to do in advance. Your doctor may recommend taking steps to reduce the risk of spreading a potentially contagious illness to others. Make a list of:
- Your symptoms, and when they began
- Information about recent exposure to possible sources of infection, including details about international trips, the countries you visited and the dates
- Medical history, including other conditions for which you're being treated; medications, vitamins and supplements you take; and your vaccination history
- Questions to ask your doctor
Take a family member or friend along, if possible, to help you remember the information you're given.
For polio, questions to ask your doctor include:
- Do I have polio?
- What are other possible causes for my symptoms?
- What tests do I need?
- What self-care steps can I take?
- How long is a full recovery likely to take?
- Am I contagious? If so, for how long?
- When can I return to work or school?
- Am I at risk of any long-term complications from polio?
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, such as:
- Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
- How severe are your symptoms?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
- What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?
- Have you recently been around people with symptoms similar to yours?
- Are you pregnant?