What is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?
This is a rare condition that is characterized by the destruction of nerve cells throughout a person’s body. The destruction and damage to the nerve cells are caused by the person’s immune system and this damage prevents the nerves from properly communicating with the brain. There are three main types of the condition:
- Acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (AIDP)- This is the most common form of GBS that occurs in the United States. This form is seen to start in the lower part of the body and work its’ way up throughout.
- Miller Fisher Syndrome (MFS)- This particular type begins with paralysis in the person’s eyes and difficulty walking.
- Acute motor axonal neuropathy (AMAN) and Acute motor sensory axonal neuropathy- These closely related types seem to attack the axon of the nerve in comparison to the myelin in the other variants of the syndrome.
Causes of Guillain-Barre Syndrome
The exact cause of GBS is unclear but it is usually linked to being a complication of a respiratory or digestive tract infection. Anyone who suffers these types of infections can be at risk for it but it is more likely to appear in older people and those with depleted immune systems. It is commonly seen as a complication with infections related to Campylobacter, Hepatitis A, Zika, influenza, and HIV/AIDS.
How is it diagnosed?
It is a difficult condition to diagnose because many of the symptoms can resemble other neurological conditions. It is also difficult because the symptoms can vary from person to person. A recent respiratory or digestive tract infection is something that will give doctors a good clue as to the diagnosis. They will also send the person to have further testing done in order to confirm it. The doctor may request such tests as:
- Spinal tap- the spinal fluid will show particular changes that are specific to the syndrome.
- Electromyography- This will test the electrical function within the muscles to see how they are communicating with the brain.
- Nerve Conduction Study- This is a test to see how well the nerves are communicating with the brain and it will show if they are compromised.
What are the symptoms and complications associated with GBS?
GBS can last, anywhere from 14-30 days, depending on the severity and how long the person waited to get treatment. There are a host of different symptoms that GBS can bring about in a person. They are all related to damaged nerves throughout a person’s body. The symptoms include:
- Muscle weakness
- Pins and needles
- Difficulty walking, breathing, and swallowing
- Difficulties with bladder and bowel functions
- Nerve pain
- Erratic heartbeat and blood pressure
Due to the various symptoms, there is also a list of side effects that can occur as a result of the person being unable to walk or move around. These complications can include:
- Blood clots
- Bed sores (also known as pressure sores)
- Loss of muscle mass
This condition can result in death if it is severe enough to affect the person’s heart (causing a heart attack) or ability to breathe.
What is the treatment for Guillain-Barre Syndrome?
This condition requires immediate medical attention and hospitalization. It is the type of condition that can spread quickly and time is of the essence in order to mitigate the effects. The faster that treatment can commence, the better the prognosis will be. There is no prescribed cure but there are treatments that can reduce the effects and allow a person to begin to recover.
- Plasmapheresis is a treatment that cleans a person’s blood of the infected plasma so that healthy plasma can be created.
- Immunoglobulin therapy is performed in order to put healthy antibodies into the person as a way of almost “resetting” their immune system.
- Blood thinners are given to help to help against blood clots in their body.
- Pain medications are given to help the person be as comfortable as possible.
- Physical therapy is also utilized in order to regain strength and mobility.
A majority of people who contract Guillain-Barre Syndrome are able to recover fully. Although GBS is a temporary condition, there is a chance that there may be some lasting effects from the damage that was done to the nerves of the body. There is a chance of some lasting pain or tingling in the extremities. It could take up to a year to finally be recovered from the ordeal.