Guillain-Barre Syndrome

Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS) is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immunity will attack your nerves, by mistake. It can cause mild to severe symptoms ranging from tingling sensation in hands/legs to fully paralyzing the body. It is believed to be caused as side effects of severe infectious diseases. The damage caused by GB syndrome cannot be cured but the severity of the symptoms can be reduced. It is a rare disorder of nervous system causing tiredness and loss of reflexes. In severe cases it can be fatal.

Symptoms :

People affected with GB syndrome would develop tingling sensation in the extremities. It can cause general weakness in legs and feet which would also spread to your arms. Initial symptoms of weakness and tingling feeling can be felt in the arms and face. In severe cases it can even cause paralysis.

Some people report of getting pricking sensation in fingers and toes. On account of this, it can change the way of walking making it difficult for them to climb stairs. Some people may get intense pain while speaking or eating and anything that involves facial muscles. In addition, GB syndrome can cause shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, back pain and increase in blood pressure and problems in bowel function. The symptoms would be mild in the beginning which may progress to severe pain and weakness in 2-3 weeks.

Types :

  • GB syndrome can be expressed in different forms based on the part of the body affected.
  • In the USA alone, many people are suffering from AIDP which is a kind of neuropathy causing pain in the lower portion of the body.
  • In Miller Fisher syndrome it affects the eye movement and walking. This type is common in Asian countries.
  • Acute motor axonal neuropath is a common type seen in China and Japan.
  • Do not ignore the symptoms of GB syndrome since the disorder can worsen rapidly if left untreated.

Causes :

It is not clear why certain people are developing GB syndrome and others are not. It is believed to develop after severe respiratory tract infection. Weakened immunity can also cause this disorder and based on this concept, it is considered to be autoimmune disease. The body’s own immune system would damage the nerves and its outer layer called myelin sheath. This would eventually block the signals that are sent to the brain leading to numbness and tingling sensation. Viral infections like Epstein Barr virus, CMV and zoster virus can trigger GB syndrome.

Who are at risk?

Elderly people are more prone to develop GB syndrome than young. People who have had virus infection recently, who have undergone surgery and who have received chemotherapy are at risk of getting GB syndrome.

Complications :

In extreme cases, GB syndrome can damage the underlying nerves causing blood pressure, heart problems, breathing difficulty, difficulty in bowel movement, severe nerve pain, and blood clots.

Diagnosis :

The intensity of symptoms differs from one person to the other. Your doctor may complete physical exam and collect the medical history. He may request for electromyography (to check the muscle activity) and nerve conduction test to measure the function of nerve signals. He may also do a biopsy of spine, to collect fluid from your lower back.

Treatment :

GB syndrome is an autoimmune disorder and cannot be cured totally. Treatment is given only for managing the symptoms.

  • Plasmapheresis :

This process is done to boost the immune system to block the function of attacking the peripheral nerves. Liquid part of the blood is removed from blood cells and the same blood cells are sent into the body. This would in turn produce more of plasma cells that are healthy.

  • Immunoglobulin Treatment :

In this approach, healthy antibodies obtained from other people are injected to the patient affected with GB syndrome. This will control the antibodies of immune system that attacks the nerves.

Combination of both therapies is effective in many cases. To manage pain caused by this disorder, painkillers are useful. Your medical practitioner may prescribe suitable drugs if he suspects blood clot formation. Blood thinners are given in mild doses and the health condition of the patient is regularly monitored.

  • Physiotherapy :

Physical therapy is very useful for getting flexible movements of arms and legs. This also helps in preventing fatigue.

The time of recovery varies with the intensity of symptoms. For some people, symptoms may improve after four weeks, but for others the disease may progress over time. Children can recover fast when compared with adults. Many people take 8-12 months for recovery and it can seriously affect the way of walking. For few people, it might take years for regaining their muscle strength. Most of the people affected with GB syndrome can manage to walk like before after 6 months period.

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