Stiff person syndrome (SPS) causes the muscles in the limbs and body to tighten up suddenly. Spasms can be triggered by noise, touch or emotional distress.
People with the condition are often too disabled to walk or move, or are afraid to leave the house in case they suffer a spasm and fall. The condition resembles chronic tetanus. Scientists have developed a highly effective treatment for this disorder of the nervous system which can leave people totally disabled.
Doctors have found that the symptoms can be relieved by giving patients an intravenous supply of a human protein called immunoglobulin (IVIg) designed to bolster the immune system. The success of the therapy supports the theory that SPS is caused by the immune system malfunctioning.
When this chemical is in short supply in the brain and spinal cord, the muscles are more likely to be over-stimulated and go into spasm. The scientists, led by Dr Marinos Dalakas, of the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, carried out tests on 23 patients with SPS. Half were started on IVIg therapy and then switched to a placebo, the rest began with a placebo but were then given IVIg.
In both cases, the patients had significantly less problems with stiffness and spasms when they were taking the IVIg therapy. 19 of the 23 patients who finished the study became less stiff and more mobile, and were able to either walk unassisted, resume work activities, or remain upright without fear of falling. Dr Dalakas said IVIg could be a more practical way of treating SPS than the current medication, diazepam.