What is Parsonage-Turner Syndrome?

Parsonage-Turner syndrome is a relatively rare disease that affects the shoulder, specifically the motor neurons in the brachial plexus nerve group. In most cases, the affected individual has sudden shoulder pain in only one shoulder. It is often followed by a decrease in muscle control in the hand, wrist, or arm, and it sometimes can result in shoulder paralysis. Also called brachial plexus neuritis, this disease can affect people of any age, and an accurate diagnosis is typically made by excluding other disorders or ailments.
Generally, Parsonage-Turner syndrome occurs when the nerves that control the shoulder and arm muscles become inflamed — shoulder and arm pain are among the first symptoms. Usually, an affected individual will experience muscle fatigue, weakness, muscle atrophy, or paralysis shortly after the initial shoulder pain. If a person experiences paralysis, she will have limpness in the shoulder and upper arm muscles as well as muscle atrophy, or the wasting away of the muscles. Luckily, even when paralysis occurs, complete recovery from Parsonage-Turner syndrome is possible.
Scientists are still uncertain as to the causes of Parsonage-Turner syndrome. It has been linked to several health concerns, such as viral infections, bacterial infections, vaccinations, and childbirth. Other possible contributors to the condition include side effects from surgery, trauma, and certain cancers, such as lymphoma and lupus. Some scientists believe that a certain form of the disease may be caused through a genetic defect as well. If a person has the hereditary form of Parsonage-Turner syndrome, both shoulders may be affected.
Research has yet to produce an efficient and effective treatment of Parsonage-Turner syndrome. Typically, the symptoms, such as pain, are treated through the use of over-the-counter pain medications. In additions, many medical providers recommend that the affected person rest the shoulder muscles and immobilize the area that is affected. Sometimes physical therapy works to reduce pain and increase the range of motion of the shoulder muscles.
Parsonage-Turner syndrome prognosis is typically very good. Recovery of sensation and strength of the upper arm and shoulder usually begin at the same time. Generally, recovery can begin as soon as one month after the onset of symptoms. In most cases, complete recovery is possible, but it may take up to five years. As with many diseases, the best and quickest recovery can happen through open communication with an experienced medical provider. Since it is diagnosed through exclusion, it is essential that doctors are able to rule out other diseases that may mimic Parsonage-Turner syndrome.

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