Stiff-Person Syndrome: What Is It?

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To find our more about stiff-person syndrome, we spoke to Dr. Aziza Sesay, an NHS General Practitioner, GP educator, Honorary Senior Clinical lecturer, host, speaker and health content creator, whose platform ‘Talks with Dr. Sesay‘ shares short informative videos, infographics, live discussions and tips on a variety of topics with a particular emphasis on women’s and gynaecological health, cancer awareness, mental health and health inequity. 

Here’s everything you need to know about the diagnosis, symptoms and treatment of the condition.

What is stiff-person syndrome? 

stiff-person syndrome (SPS) is a rare, progressive neurological condition which affects the brain and spinal cord. There is still not very much understanding as to why it occurs but it is believed that there is an autoimmune element which basically means health parts of the brain and spine are attacked by the person’s own immune system resulting in the symptoms experienced.

The main symptoms are to do with fluctuating and progressive muscle rigidity and spasms including stiffness to the limbs, chest or back muscle; difficulties in walking and stability which increases the individual’s risk to falling making them more prone to injuries; very painful spasms which can be strong enough to break bones and heightened sensitivity to light, noise or sound which in itself may aggravate the spasms.

Unsurprisingly, it can be very distressing both physically and emotionally and can have a profound effect on the individual’s day to day activities and their mental wellbeing – it often leads to anxiety and depression.

Who is most likely to be affected by stiff-person syndrome?The condition is said to be associated with other autoimmune conditions like diabetes, vitiligo, autoimmune thyroid disorders and so on. Therefore, individuals who have these conditions are more likely to develop SPS. Women are twice as likely to have the condition than men and the age range in which it occurs is anywhere between 30-60. 

Who is most likely to be affected by stiff-person syndrome?

The condition is said to be associated with other autoimmune conditions like diabetes, vitiligo, autoimmune thyroid disorders and so on. Therefore, individuals who have these conditions are more likely to develop SPS. Women are twice as likely to have the condition than men and the age range in which it occurs is anywhere between 30-60. 

What is the treatment for stiff-person syndrome?

There is currently no cure. The aim of treatment is to manage the symptoms including taking pain killers like gabapentin to ease the nerve pain, muscle relaxants like diazepam which also helps with anxiety, medications that ease spasms like baclofen and intravenous immunoglobulin treatment have also been found to be effective in managing an array of symptoms including improving stiffness, sensitivity to noise and touch and improving their ability to walk and their balance. 

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