Stiff Person Syndrome: Definition, Treatment, Sypmtoms, Causes and Types

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What Is Stiff-person syndrome (SPS)?

Per our research online, Stiff-person syndrome (SPS) is a rare neurological disorder with features of an autoimmune disease.

SPS is characterized by fluctuating muscle rigidity in the trunk and limbs and a heightened sensitivity to stimuli such as noise, touch, and emotional distress, which can set off muscle spasms.

Abnormal postures, often hunched over and stiffened, are characteristic of the disorder.  People with SPS can be too disabled to walk or move, or they are afraid to leave the house because street noises, such as the sound of a horn, can trigger spasms and falls.  SPS affects twice as many women as men.

It is frequently associated with other autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, thyroiditis, vitiligo, and pernicious anemia.  Scientists don’t yet understand what causes SPS, but research indicates that it is the result of an autoimmune response gone awry in the brain and spinal cord.

The disorder is often misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, psychosomatic illness, or anxiety and phobia.  A definitive diagnosis can be made with a blood test that measures the level of glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) antibodies in the blood.

People with SPS have elevated levels of GAD, an antibody that works against an enzyme involved in the synthesis of an important neurotransmitter in the brain.

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Treatment with IVIg, anti-anxiety drugs, muscle relaxants, anti-convulsants, and pain relievers will improve the symptoms of SPS, but will not cure the disorder.  Most individuals with SPS have frequent falls and because they lack the normal defensive reflexes; injuries can be severe.  With appropriate treatment, the symptoms are usually well controlled.

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  1. Classic Stiff Person Syndrome: This is the most common form of SPS, characterized by progressive muscle stiffness and spasms primarily affecting the axial muscles (trunk, back, and abdomen). It typically presents with muscle rigidity that leads to a characteristic “stiff” posture and can be triggered or exacerbated by various stimuli like sudden movements, emotional stress, or unexpected noises.
  2. Stiff Limb Syndrome: Stiff Limb Syndrome is a subtype of SPS where the stiffness and spasms are primarily limited to one or more limbs, such as the arms or legs. This form may be associated with muscle stiffness and spasms that affect the limbs asymmetrically.
  3. Progressive Encephalomyelitis with Rigidity and Myoclonus (PERM): PERM is a rare subtype of SPS that involves not only muscle stiffness and spasms but also additional neurological symptoms. These symptoms can include muscle jerks or myoclonus, disturbances in eye movement, ataxia (uncoordinated movements), and cognitive impairments. PERM is often more severe and has a worse prognosis compared to classic SPS.
  4. Stiff Person Syndrome Plus (SPS-Plus): SPS-Plus refers to cases of Stiff Person Syndrome that are accompanied by other autoimmune or neurological disorders. These associated conditions may include autoimmune thyroiditis, diabetes mellitus, vitiligo, epilepsy, or other autoimmune diseases. The presence of these additional disorders distinguishes SPS-Plus from classic SPS.

Related: Stiff Person Syndrome Definition, Treatment, Causes, Sypmtoms

Certainly! Here’s a more detailed expansion on the causes and symptoms of Stiff Person Syndrome (SPS):


  1. Autoimmune Dysfunction: Stiff Person Syndrome is believed to be an autoimmune disorder, meaning that the immune system mistakenly targets and attacks certain nerve cells in the spinal cord and brainstem that control muscle movement. The specific trigger for this autoimmune response is not yet fully understood, but it is thought to involve a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors.
  2. Genetic Factors: While the majority of Stiff Person Syndrome cases do not have a clear genetic cause, there have been rare instances where specific genetic variations or mutations have been associated with the development of the condition. However, the precise genetic factors involved in SPS are not yet fully elucidated.


  1. Muscle Stiffness: The primary symptom of Stiff Person Syndrome is muscle stiffness, which can be continuous or episodic. It typically affects the axial muscles, including the muscles of the trunk, back, and abdomen, but can also involve the limbs. The stiffness can make it challenging to move or change positions, and it often worsens with stress or sudden movements.
  2. Muscle Spasms: In addition to stiffness, individuals with SPS commonly experience muscle spasms. These spasms can be sudden, involuntary contractions of the muscles, leading to abnormal postures or movements. Spasms can range from mild, causing slight discomfort, to severe, resulting in painful and disabling episodes.
  3. Hyperactive Reflexes: Hyperactive reflexes are a characteristic feature of Stiff Person Syndrome. When a healthcare professional tests reflexes, such as tapping on the knees or elbows, the affected individual may exhibit exaggerated or excessive muscle responses. This hyperexcitability of reflexes is a distinguishing clinical sign of the condition.
  4. Sensory Disturbances: Some individuals with Stiff Person Syndrome may experience sensory abnormalities. These can include heightened sensitivity to touch, sound, or light, known as sensory hyperacusis or hypersensitivity. These sensory disturbances can exacerbate muscle stiffness and spasms and contribute to the overall discomfort experienced by individuals with SPS.
  5. Balance and Coordination Problems: Stiff Person Syndrome can significantly affect balance and coordination. The combination of muscle stiffness, spasms, and impaired muscle control can lead to difficulties in walking, maintaining stability, and performing coordinated movements. This can increase the risk of falls and injuries.
  6. Anxiety and Emotional Distress: Dealing with the chronic and unpredictable symptoms of Stiff Person Syndrome can take a toll on an individual’s emotional well-being. Many individuals with SPS experience heightened anxiety, fear, and emotional distress due to the uncertainty of when symptoms may occur and how they may impact daily life. This emotional impact is an important aspect of the condition that should be addressed alongside the physical symptoms.

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It’s important to remember that Stiff Person Syndrome is a rare and complex disorder, and symptoms can vary from person to person. Diagnosis can be challenging, requiring a comprehensive evaluation by healthcare professionals experienced in neurological disorders. Treatment approaches for Stiff Person Syndrome aim to alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life and may include medications, physical therapy, and psychological support.

Treatment For Stiff-person syndrome (SPS)

The treatment for Stiff Person Syndrome (SPS) aims to alleviate symptoms, improve quality of life, and manage associated conditions. Although there is no cure for SPS, various treatment approaches can help manage the symptoms and reduce muscle stiffness and spasms. It’s important to work closely with healthcare professionals experienced in neurological disorders to develop an individualized treatment plan. Here are some common treatment options for Stiff Person Syndrome:

  1. Medications:
  • Benzodiazepines: Medications such as diazepam or clonazepam can be prescribed to help relieve muscle stiffness and spasms.
  • Muscle Relaxants: Medications like baclofen or tizanidine may be used to reduce muscle rigidity and improve mobility.
  • Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIG): In some cases, IVIG, which contains antibodies from donated blood, may be administered to modulate the immune system and alleviate symptoms.
  1. Intrathecal Baclofen (ITB) Therapy: For individuals with severe and refractory symptoms, an ITB pump can be surgically implanted to deliver baclofen directly into the spinal fluid. This approach can provide more targeted relief from muscle stiffness and spasms.
  2. Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can develop an exercise program tailored to the individual’s needs, focusing on maintaining flexibility, range of motion, and muscle strength. Stretching exercises, mobility training, and postural exercises may be recommended to help manage symptoms and improve functional abilities.
  3. Psychological Support: Living with a chronic condition like SPS can be challenging, and individuals may benefit from psychological support. Therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can help manage anxiety, stress, and emotional distress associated with the condition.
  4. Assistive Devices and Modifications: Assistive devices, such as canes, walkers, or orthotic devices, may be recommended to improve mobility and reduce the risk of falls. Home modifications, such as handrails or grab bars, can also enhance safety and accessibility.
  5. Management of Associated Conditions: If an individual with SPS has other associated conditions like autoimmune thyroiditis, diabetes, or epilepsy, appropriate treatment for these conditions will be incorporated into the overall management plan.

It’s essential to have regular follow-up appointments with healthcare professionals to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment plan and make any necessary adjustments. Additionally, staying informed about the latest research and advancements in the management of SPS can be beneficial, as new treatment options may become available in the future.

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