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When the immune system attacks itself, one may be suffering from Guillain Barre Syndrome. The condition is also referred to as AIDP or Acute Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy. It is a kind of inflammatory disorder in which the affected individual complains about numbness and weakness in the extremities. The syndrome may get worse resulting in muscle paralysis and even death if it goes with acute dysautonomia or pulmonary complications.

The treatment for Guillain Barre Syndrome focuses on alleviating the symptoms as well as in shortening the duration of the illness. Prompt treatment is vital in improving the quality of life of the patient. Many patients recover from the syndrome, but a number still experience the lingering effects of the ailment.

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Guillain Barre Syndrome causes

Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS) arises when the immune system abnormally attacks the nerves that carry signals to the brain. This abnormality damages the myelin sheath, the protective covering of the nerves, thus disrupting the process of sending signals to the brain and resulting in numbness, weakness and even paralysis.

It is not clear why the immune system assaults the nerves. However, experts have figured out that the syndrome occurs with other health conditions or occurs after bouts of certain infections, like:

  • Viral infections

The syndrome has been found to occur with AIDS, Mononucleosis and Herpes simplex. It may also appear after episodes of flu and other infections caused by the Epstein Barr virus and cytomegalovirus.

  • Bacterial infections

GBS could likewise happen after a bacterial infection, such as the one caused by the Campylobacter jejuni bacterium. This bacterium has been associated with minor infections like gastrointestinal infection and lung infection.

  • Medical conditions

Studies showed that the syndrome may also come about with certain medical conditions like Hodgkin’s disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, diarrhea and respiratory ailments. It has been found to arise following surgery as well

  • Vaccination

Vaccination for influenza and rabies may also bring about Guillain Barre Syndrome.

Guillain Barre Syndrome statistics

Statistics have shown that around 3,000 to 6,000 individuals suffer from the syndrome every year; that is about 1 to 2 individuals out of 100,000 people. It excludes no one as both young and old, and male and female are afflicted. However, people in their 30s and 50s are more affected by the syndrome and the risk increases as the age advances.

The syndrome should not be ignored to prevent it from causing further damage to other systems in the body. If left undiagnosed and untreated, complications may occur such as:

  • Respiratory failure
  • Pneumonia
  • Aspiration
  • Unstable blood pressure
  • Joint contractures
  • Structural deformity
  • Frequent bouts of infections
  • Skin damage
  • Permanent paralysis
  • Deep vein thrombosis

It only takes several weeks or months for some people to recover from the syndrome, while it would require a few years for others to be healed completely. Those who recover from the disease in 3 weeks have better prognosis. Still, it should be noted that mild muscle weakness is normal even after 3 years or much longer.

Symptoms of Guillain Barre Syndrome

People suffering from the disorder feel weakness and a tingling sensation in the feet, legs, arms and even face. The symptoms are barely noticeable at first but these will slowly be more evident as the syndrome advances. Other manifestations of the syndrome include:

  • Severe lower back pain
  • Unsteady walking
  • Prickly sensation on the fingers and toes
  • Weak legs and upper body
  • Difficulty in swallowing or chewing
  • Difficulty in speaking, moving the eyes and making facial expressions
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Unstable blood pressure
  • Heart palpitations
  • Difficulty in controlling the bladder

The symptoms develop more rapidly in some patients thereby resulting in complete paralysis. It is therefore important to seek immediate medical treatment because the syndrome is very serious, requiring hospitalization to prevent the syndrome from getting worse.

Diagnosis of Guillain Barre Syndrome

The diagnosis of the syndrome is a bit tricky during its early stages because the symptoms may resemble that of other neurological diseases. Doctors confirm the condition by first checking the medical history of the patient. They may also request nerve function test and cerebrospinal fluid sample to confirm their diagnosis. Pulmonary function test, nerve conduction velocity test, Electromyography (EMG) and ECG may also be done.

Guillain Barre Syndrome treatment

The syndrome requires hospitalization and is treated in two ways.  The first treatment option is plasma exchange in which the patient’s blood is cleansed of harmful antibodies. The second method involves intravenous immune globulin (IVIG) in which beneficial antibodies is supplemented into the patient’s blood. Depending on the patient’s condition, breathing support tube or ventilator might be used.  Blood thinners for blood clots; narcotics and anti-inflammatory medications for pain; and feeding tube for feeding problems may likewise be employed. The goal of Guillain Barre Syndrome treatment is to alleviate the symptoms, cure the medical complications and accelerate recovery.

Guillain Barre Syndrome pictures


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