Franklin D. Roosevelt, the four-term president who directed his sweeping social policies from his wheelchair, probably suffered from Guillain-Barre syndrome rather than polio, Texas researchers said Friday.
Guillain-Barre is believed to be an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. It occurs after a mild infection, surgery or, rarely, after an immunization.
Either way, the diagnosis made no difference for Roosevelt -- there were no good treatments for either disease in 1921, when his symptoms developed. He was president from 1933 until he died in 1945 of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Writing in the Journal of Medical Biography, pediatrician Armond Goldman and his colleagues at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston said some of Roosevelt's symptoms did resemble those of polio, which is caused by a virus that can leave crippling side effects. They included his fever when he first became ill and the permanent paralysis of some lower muscles.
But other symptoms "were inconsistent with paralytic poliomyelitis that affects motor neurons but were typical of Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disease that damages sensory and motor nerves," Goldman said in a statement.
Roosevelt was 39 when the disease struck -- polio usually affects younger people.
His paralysis affected both sides of the body evenly, and he had partial facial paralysis early on, numbness, extreme prolonged pain and bladder and bowel dysfunction -- all symptoms typical of Guillain-Barre syndrome but not polio.