Symptoms and Signs of Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM)

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 9/14/2021

Doctor's Notes on Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM)

Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is a rare disease of inflammation of the spinal cord, the part of the nervous system that carries messages to and from the brain. Most cases of acute flaccid myelitis occur in children, but the disease can occur in adults. 

Symptoms of acute flaccid myelitis include

  • sudden (acute) weakness in the arms or legs,
  • along with loss of muscle tone and
  • decreased or absent reflexes.
  • Weakness may be mild to severe.
  • Pain may also occur in some patients.

Acute flaccid myelitis may also affect the nerves controlling the head and neck,

  • causing facial weakness,
  • drooping of the eyelids, and 
  • difficulty swallowing, speaking, or moving the eyes.

A serious complication of AFM is respiratory failure if the breathing muscles become weakened.

What is the treatment for acute flaccid myelitis?

  • There is no cure for acute flaccid myelitis, and no specific treatments are recommended.
  • However, physical therapy or occupational therapy may be used to help with arm or leg weakness.
  • Early initiation of physical and occupational therapy may help restore as much function as possible and improve daily activity.
  • Physical and occupational therapy may continue to provide benefit for years.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.