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STIFF-PERSON SYNDROME

When Laura was thirty years old, she began having episodes of muscle stiffness in the trunk of her body and in her limbs. During these episodes, she would also have severe and prolonged muscle spasms in her legs. As a result, she fell several times. She also suffered from anxiety and depression.

Laura made an appointment with her primary care physician. After ordering some initial testing, the doctor referred Laura to a neurologist. Laura also saw physicians in several other fields including allergy and immunology, rheumatology, and orthopedic surgery. Three years later, she was diagnosed with Stiff-Person Syndrome.

Stiff-Person Syndrome, originally called Stiff-Man Syndrome, is a rare disease which affects only one in a million people. The syndrome affects twice as many women as men. According to the Cleveland Clinic article “Stiff-Person Syndrome/Cleveland Clinic” at https://my.cleveland clinic.org/health articles, it is characterized by “muscle stiffness in the trunk and limbs and heightened sensitivity to noise, touch, and emotional distress, which can set off muscle spasms.” Patients may have abnormal posture, such as being hunched over. Muscle spasms and muscle rigidity may cause patients to fall.

Individuals usually start experiencing symptoms between ages thirty and sixty. Because the disease is so rare, getting a diagnosis can take years. According to the Cleveland Clinic article, “One commonly used tool is a blood test to detect the presence of glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) antibodies. About 60-80% of affected people have antibodies against GAD that can be detected on a blood test. Therefore, the absence of GAD antibodies does not rule out SPS, but the presence of high levels of GAD antibodies in people with symptoms of SPS strongly supports the diagnosis.”

Treatment of Stiff-Person Syndrome focuses on the specific symptoms present in each person. Doctors may prescribe benzodiazepines, diazepam, or baclofen to treat muscle stiffness and spasms. Pain medications and anti-seizure medications may also be effective for some patients. In addition, doctors may prescribe antidepressants to relieve the anxiety and depression associated with Stiff-Person Syndrome.

If you have a family member who suffers from Stiff-Person Syndrome and needs private duty nursing, call American Home Health at (630) 236-3501. The agency can provide round-the-clock nursing care by Registered Nurses (RNs), Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), and Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs). Our service area covers fifteen counties in Northern Illinois including Cook, Lake, McHenry, Boone, Winnebago, Ogle, Lee, DeKalb, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, LaSalle, Grundy, Will, and Kankakee. American Home Health is licensed by the State of Illinois and accredited by the Joint Commission.

For further information, go to www.ahhc-1.com, or call (630) 236-3501.

—By Karen Centowski