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Aurora magazine

Hypokalemic periodic paralysis: causes and symptoms

Hypokalemic periodic paralysis is an inherited genetic disease that causes episodes of muscle weakness. Those suffering from it are affected by temporary episodes of paralysis starting from adolescence. In some cases the attacks occur every day, in others once a year. They usually last a few hours and manifest from adolescence.

Most of the attacks of temporary paralysis hit the shoulders and hips. However, it also affects the arms and legs, the muscles of the eyes and those related to breathing. Attacks sculpt mainly upon awakening and are rare during exercise. Consumption of alcohol and carbohydrate foods seems to be a triggering factor.

Subjects suffering from periodic hypokalaemic paralysis do not show any symptoms between attacks. Some of them complain of stiff legs just before paralysis, but there are no other signs. During the attack, however, potassium levels collapse, muscle reflexes diminish or disappear. Electrocardiogram and electromyogram abnormalities are also visible. In some cases, the anomalies result in cardiac arrhythmias.

For the moment there is no effective treatment in 100% of cases. Taking potassium does not prevent episodes of paralysis, although administering it during the course can block an attack. Doctors recommend avoiding alcohol and cutting carbohydrate consumption, thus reducing triggering factors. Acetazolamide has proven effective in prevention, although it does not always work and reduces potassium levels. Alternatively, triamterene or spironolactone can be taken.