Periodic paralysis (also known as myoplegia paroxysmalis familiaris) is a group of rare genetic diseases that lead to weakness or paralysis from common triggers such as cold, heat, high carbohydrate meals, not eating, stress or excitement and physical activity of any kind. The underlying mechanism of these diseases are malfunctions in the ion channels in skeletal muscle cell membranes that allow electrically charged ions to leak in or out of the muscle cell, causing the cell to depolarize and become unable to move. The symptoms of periodic paralysis can also be caused by hyperthyroidism, and are then labeled thyrotoxic periodic paralysis; however, if this is the underlying condition there are likely to be other characteristic manifestations, enabling a correct diagnosis.
TypesPeriodic paralysis is an autosomal dominant myopathy with considerable variation in penetrance, leading to a spectrum of familial phenotypes (only one parent needs to carry the gene mutation to affect the children, but not all family members who share the gene are affected to the same degree). Specific diseases include:
- Hypokalemic periodic paralysis (), where potassium leaks into the muscle cells from the bloodstream.
- Hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (), where potassium leaks out of the cells into the bloodstream.
- Paramyotonia congenita (), a form which often accompanies hyperkalemic periodic paralysis, but may present alone. The primary symptom of paramyotonia congenita is muscle contracture which develops during exercise or activity. Paramyotonia congenita attacks may also be triggered by a low level of potassium in the bloodstream. This means people with both hyperkalemic periodic paralysis and paramyotonia congenita can have attacks with fluctuations of potassium up or down.
- Andersen-Tawil syndrome (), a form of periodic paralysis that includes significant heart rhythm problems, fainting and risk of sudden death. Potassium levels may be low, high, or normal during attacks of ATS. Patients with ATS may also have skeletal abnormalities like scoliosis (curvature of the spine), webbing between the second and third toes or fingers ( syndactyly), crooked fingers (clinodactyly), a small jaw ( micrognathia) and low-set ears. Patients need to have another form of periodic paralysis to have the Andersen-Tawil. If a patient has hypo or hyper periodic paralysis they have a 50% chance of getting Andersen-Tawil. They just have to have the gene that causes it. This is a rare occurrence of having this. Only around 100 people in the world are recorded to have it.