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Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM)

Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is a rare condition that affects the body’s nervous system, specifically the spinal cord.  The exact cause of the illness is not known, though scientists think it is most likely the result of a viral infection.

Symptoms of AFM

Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM)  is characterized by the sudden onset of limb weakness and loss of muscle tone and reflexes. Some patients, in addition to the limb weakness, will experience:

  • Facial droop/weakness
  • Difficulty moving the eyes
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Difficulty with swallowing or slurred speech
  • Difficulty with urination

Numbness or tingling is rare in patients with AFM, though some patients have pain in their arms or legs. The most severe symptom of AFM is paralysis or respiratory failure that can happen when the muscles involved with breathing become weak. This can require ventilator support.

Treatment for AFM

While there is great uncertainty about the final outcome of children afflicted with AFM there is one thing that experts across the country all agree upon; the most important treatment for children diagnosed with AFM is early, intensive rehabilitation.  At Kennedy Krieger Institute, whether the child is treated on the inpatient unit or in the outpatient program, his/her care is provided by a team of experts in the treatment of spinal cord disease and related paralysis.  We apply the principles of ABRT and create aggressive, individualized treatment plans that have your child’s well-being at the program’s core. Treatment can include functional electrical stimulation, standing and weight bearing, partial body weight supported gait training and aquatic therapy.  Rehabilitation for children with AFM requires persistence and evolving knowledge.  And, while the children are improving, we facilitate ongoing access to modern technology to assist them to be as independent as possible, including access to portable ventilators, power wheelchairs, assisted communications, standers and even robotic exoskeleton equipment for older children. 

During treatment, your child will be evaluated by a multidisciplinary team and recommendations will be made for medical management, home rehabilitative equipment, orthotics, and any standing/walking equipment that is appropriate for your child. 

Every child leaves Kennedy Krieger Institute with an individualized home and community rehabilitation program.  We assist families in finding specialists in their home community with whom we can partner with to assure optimal ongoing care. Children and their families are encouraged to return to Kennedy Krieger periodically to have their progress evaluated and to update their home and community rehabilitation program.  Rehabilitation for children with AFM may be a long process and the professionals at Kennedy Krieger Institute are there with you every step of the way.

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