• Periodic Paralysis Syndrome

    (Familial Periodic Paralysis; Hypokalemic Periodic Paralysis; Anderson-Tawil Syndrome; Paraneoplastic Periodic Paralysis)


    Periodic paralysis is a rare condition that is usually inherited. It causes occasional episodes of severe muscle weakness. The 2 most common types of periodic paralysis are hypokalemic and hyperkalemic.


    Periodic paralysis is a condition that is present from birth. Periodic paralysis is caused by abnormalities of the electrolyte channels on muscles.
    Familial periodic paralysis is inherited, but may occur without a known family history. With the inherited form of the disorder, only 1 affected parent is needed to transmit the gene to the baby. Rarely, the condition occurs as a result of a noninherited genetic defect.
    Genetic Material
    Chromosome DNA
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

    Risk Factors

    Factors that increase your chance of developing periodic paralysis include:
    • Family history of periodic paralysis
    • Thyroid disorder—high thyroid hormone levels, particularly in Asian males


    Although muscle strength returns to normal between attacks, repeated episodes of weakness may lead to chronic muscle weakness later in life. The person remains alert and aware during attacks. There is no loss of sensation.
    Episodes of severe weakness in the arms and legs are the major symptom. Typically, these episodes occur during sleep, early morning, or after strenuous activity. Cold, stress, and alcohol may also produce attacks. Other, less common, symptoms may include:
    • Weakness in the eyelids and face muscles
    • Muscle pain
    • Irregular heartbeats
    • Difficulty breathing or swallowing—This requires emergency care
    Some features are specific to the type of periodic paralysis.
      • Potassium levels are low during attacks
      • Frequency of attacks varies from daily to yearly
      • Attacks usually last between 4-24 hours, but can last for several days
      • Attacks usually begin in adolescence, but they can occur before age 10
      • Potassium levels are high or normal during attacks
      • Attacks are usually shorter, more frequent , and less severe than the hypokalemic form; breathing and swallowing difficulties are extremely rare
      • Between attacks, patients often experience muscle spasms or difficulty relaxing their muscles, a condition is known as myotonia
      • Attacks usually begin in early childhood
    Persons with some types of periodic paralysis are at risk for a condition known as malignant hyperthermia. This can occur during the use of general anesthesia. Anyone with a family history of periodic paralysis needs to notify the anesthesiologist of this history prior to any surgery.


    Because this primarily is an inherited condition, the most important part of diagnosis is obtaining a family history. You will be asked about your symptoms and your medical history. A physical exam will be done.
    Your doctor may want to bring on an attack during an office visit. This should only be done under careful monitoring by an experienced neurologist. If an attack is triggered, several tests may be done, including:
    Your muscle tissue may need to be tested. This can be done with a biopsy.
    Electromyography (EMG)
    Electromyogram EMG
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


    Since there is no cure for periodic paralysis, lifelong treatment is usually required. Treatment focuses on preventing attacks and relieving symptoms.

    Lifestyle Changes

    There are a few behaviors you can adopt to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks:
      Hypokalemic: Hyperkalemic:


    The type of medications prescribed depend on the type of periodic paralysis.
      Medications for both hypokalemic and hyperkalemic include:
      • Acetazolamide may prevent an attack by reducing the flow of potassium from the bloodstream into the cells of the body.
      • Potassium may stop an attack; intravenous potassium may be prescribed for severe weakness.
      • Avoiding certain commonly prescribed medications may help reduce the onset of attacks.
      • If you have a thyroid condition, be sure to get treatment for it.
      • Thiazide diuretics, or water pills, may be prescribed to prevent an attack.
      • Glucose and insulin, or calcium carbonate may be prescribed to slow or stop an attack.


    Familial periodic paralysis cannot be prevented. Because it can be inherited, genetic counseling may be advised for couples at risk of passing on the disorder.
    For the hypokalemic type, attacks may be reduced by:
    • Avoiding corticosteroids and glucose infusions
    • Following a diet low in carbohydrates and sodium and rich in potassium
    For the hyperkalemic type, attacks may be reduced by:
    • Avoiding high potassium foods, fasting, and drugs known to increase potassium levels
    • Engaging in regular, mild exercise


    Muscular Dystrophy Association http://www.mdausa.org

    National Organization for Rare Disorders http://www.rarediseases.org


    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

    Muscular Dystrophy Canada http://www.mdac.ca


    Hyperkalemic periodic paralysis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 30, 2013. Accessed June 22, 2015.

    Jurkat-Ratt K, Lehmann-Horn F. Paroxysmal muscle weakness-the periodic paralyses. J Neurol. 2006;253:1391-1398.

    Jurkatt-Rott K, Lerche H, et al. Hereditary channelopathies in neurology. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2010;686:305-334.

    Miller TM. Correlating phenotype and genotype in the periodic paralyses. Neurology. 2004;63:1647-1655

    NINDS familial periodic paralyses information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/periodic%5Fparalysis/periodic%5Fparalysis.htm. Updated March 12, 2012. Accessed June 22, 2015.

    Patient page: attacks of immobility caused by diet or exercise? The mystery of periodic paralyses. Neurology. 2004;63:E17-E18.

    Revision Information

  • LiveWell personal health survey

    How healthy are you really? Find out – free.Learn more

    It's time to stop guessing. If you want to make some changes but just aren't sure how, the free personal health survey from LiveWell is a great place to start.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease and prevent heart attacks. HeartSHAPE® is a painless, non-invasive test that checks pictures of your heart for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.

  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.