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Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is a condition with rapid onset affecting the nerves in the spinal cord, mostly in children.

AFM typically causes weakness in the arms, legs, neck or shoulders, and can occasionally affect breathing. Doctors do not yet know the exact cause, but it is thought to be due to a viral infection. It is often compared to polio, as it appears to cause a child's immune system to attack their own nerves.

Because the onset of AFM is rapid, it is important to contact your doctor right away if your child develops any AFM symptoms including: sudden arm or leg weakness, difficulty swallowing, slurred speech and facial weakness or drooping. A physical exam can help to confirm these symptoms, while a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan helps to identify any irregularities seen in the spinal cord.

Pediatric neurologists and pediatric intensive care unit doctors are the specialists who provide initial care for patients with AFM. Once they begin to improve, patients benefit greatly from the early initiation of physical therapy and occupational therapy. The ability to recoup from weakness is difficult to predict, but at Shriners Children’s we believe that with therapy the ability to recover improves. Our therapists provide prompt, family-centered care tailored to your child’s needs. Our trusted team of professionals will work together to design a unique care plan for each child that will lead to their highest level of independence and activity.

Specific treatments and services may vary by location. Please contact a specific location for more information.

Acute Flaccid Myelitis: Know What to Look For

The onset of acute flaccid myelitis is sudden and has the potential to affect the muscles that control breathing, which makes seeking care for a child experiencing any of the symptoms below very important:

  • Sudden arm or leg weakness
  • Sudden loss of or weakened reflexes
  • Difficulty swallowing or moving the eyes
  • Respiratory symptoms (difficulty breathing)
  • Slurred speech
  • Facial weakness or drooping
  • Bowel/bladder changes or difficulty urinating
  • Numbness or tingling
I can’t even begin to say how much Shriners Children's has impacted all of our lives. Not only have they given my son a chance, but they have also given our entire family hope.
Linda, Tampa
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