Guillain-Barre Syndrome

Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a nervous system disorder where the bodies immune system attacks the peripheral (ones outside of the brain and spinal cord) nerves. The attack on the nervous system results in inflammation and damage of the nerves.

Symptoms of Guillain-Barre Syndrome

Symptoms usually begin very mild and gradually get worse, before very slowly improving again. They often start in the hands and feet and soon spread to the whole limb.

Symptoms may include:

  • Pins and needles.
  • Numbness.
  • Weakness.
  • Decreased balance.
  • Temporary paralysis.
  • Pain in the spine and limbs is described by some sufferers, but not others.

In many cases the symptoms will only affect the arms and legs. When the symptoms spread and start to affect the organs, the condition becomes more serious:

  • Temporary paralysis of the respiratory muscles - requires help breathing via a ventilator.
  • Difficulty chewing and swallowing - require feeding through a tube.
  • Difficulty with bladder control.
  • Slow heart rate.
  • Low blood pressure.

Causes and Diagnosis

The cause of Guillain-Barre Syndrome is not really known, although in many cases the individual suffered a viral or bacterial infection in the weeks running up to developing the condition. This may result in the immune system becoming 'overactive' and attacking the nerves.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome is slightly more common in men than women and affects around 1500 people a year in the UK. The majority of people do make a full recovery, although this may take anywhere between a few weeks to several months.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome is usually diagnosed with a combination of a consultation with your Doctor or Consultant and positive results of an Electromyography (EMG) test or Lumbar puncture (also known as a spinal tap and is used to check protein levels in the spinal fluid, which are often raised in GB syndrome). Blood tests may also be taken to check for the specific anti-bodies that are present in GB syndrome, or to check the rate at which the red blood cells sink - which indicates levels of inflammation in the body.

Treatment

Guillain-Barre Syndrome is usually treated in hospital as breathing and heart rates, as well as blood pressure are monitored regularly. Those with a severe case of the condition may need to be put on a ventilator to aid their breathing and may require feeding through a tube. Other medications may be prescribed as recommended, such as painkillers.

Intravenous Immunoglobulin

Intravenous (IV) Immunoglobulin is a form of treatment which involves injecting the patient with immunoglobulin (antibodies) from a healthy donor. These healthy antibodies attack and destroy the patients own antibodies - the ones that are attacking their nervous system. An IV injection is usually administered every 5 days.

Plasma Exchange (Plasmapheresis)

Plasma is the fluid which transports the other components of blood (such as the blood cells and platelets etc). The patient is connected to a machine which removes some of their blood, separates out the plasma and injects the cells back in, without the plasma. The body then re-produces more of its own, healthy plasma. A number of sessions will be required, depending how bad the condition is.