Post-infectious, progressive disease that is characterized by attacks of the immune system on the peripheral nervous system. The myelin sheath surrounding the axons (and even the axon itself) is attacked and destroyed. Results in weakness and abnormal sensations in the legs, arms and upper body (in severe cases almost total paralysis of the body can occur). It can affect any age group.

 

Main types of Guillain-Barre syndrome:

 

Acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (AIDP) – muscle weakness first appears in the lower body and spreads upwards

–  Miller Fisher syndrome (MFS) – paralysis begins in the eyes

–  Acute motor axonal neuropathy (AMAN) – more common in children and teenagers

Acute motor-sensory axonal neuropathy (AMSAN) – rapid motor and sensory dysfunctions occur

(*axon = nerve cell extension that carries signals;

*myelin sheath = membrane that covers the nerve axon)

Causes

Exact cause is unknown

Usually appears after an infectious illness (of the respiratory or digestive system)

Symptoms and signs

 

Tingling sensation in fingers, toes, wrists or ankles

Weakness in legs that spreads to the upper body

Difficulty in walking, climbing

Difficulties chewing, swallowing

Problems with speaking, eyes and facial movement

Muscle pain, cramps

Respiratory difficulty

Difficulties related to bladder control and bowel function

Rapid pulse

High or low blood pressure

Advice

 

Medical history is verified, followed by a physical examination

 

Diagnosis can be troublesome as symptoms are characteristic to other neurological diseases as well

 

Spinal tap (lumbar puncture) – spinal fluid is extracted and analyzed

 

Nerve conduction studies – the speed with which nerves send signals is measured

 

Electromyography – nerve activity in the muscles is measured

 

There is no instant and precise cure but there are treatments that can speed-up recovery and help with symptom management

 

Plasmapheresis (plasma exchange) – blood cells are separated from plasma and reintroduced in the body; through this process, the plasma that contains the antibodies that attack the myelin sheath and axons is removed and a new one is produced

 

Immunoglobulin therapy (IVIG) – healthy antibodies are administered intravenously

 

Medication is given for pain relief and blood clot prevention

 

Physical therapy is recommended to maintain or regain muscle strength, tone and mobility

 

Recovery period varies from several months to a few years

MISCONCEPTIONS
  •  

    The flu vaccine causes Guillain-Barre syndrome.

     

    Guillain-Barre syndrome is incurable.

     

    A person with Guillain-Barre syndrome will never make a complete recovery.

     

    After recovery, chances of a relapse are very high.

Statistics

 

US incidence: 1.2-3/100,000 people

 

AMAN and AMSAN are more common in China, Japan and Mexico

 

AIDP is more common in Europe, North America (around 90% of the cases of GBS)

 

Age groups in which GBS tends to occur: 15-35 and 50-75

 

Up to 5% of the people with Guillain-Barre syndrome suffer a relapse

Did you know?

 

Military personnel seem to have a slightly increased risk of developing GBS.

 

Due to the Zika virus epidemic, Columbia expects around 1,500 Guillain-Barre syndrome cases per 650,000 people infected. (2016)

 

Famous people with Guillain-Barre syndrome: Franklin Roosevelt, actor Andy Griffith, American football player William Perry, author Joseph Heller