Guillain-Barre Syndrome

Guillain-Barre Syndrome

Overview

Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare auto-immune disorder. It is a serious disease, in which the immune system attacks healthy nerve cells in the peripheral nervous system. This causes muscle weakness, numbness, tingling sensation in the extremities and eventual paralysis. The condition is typically triggered by an infectious illness like gastroenteritis or a respiratory infection. There are multiple types of Guillain-Barre syndrome, such as acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy and Miller Fisher syndrome.

Signs and symptoms

The symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome begin as tingling sensations on extremities, like the hands, the feet or the face. As the condition progresses, the patient may experience prickly pins and needle sensations, muscle fatigue, difficulty with muscle co-ordination, rapid heart rate and difficulty breathing.

Causes

The exact cause of Guillain-Barre syndrome is unknown, however, it appears soon after a respiratory or digestive tract infection. The condition triggers an auto-immune response, prompting the immune system to attack the nerves. This disrupts nerve function, causing muscle weakness, numbness and possibly paralysis.

Risk factors

Guillain-Barre syndrome can occur in patients of any age, but it is most common in older male adults. Guillain-Barre syndrome could be triggered by influenza, Zika virus, hepatitis, HIV, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and trauma, putting patients with these conditions at increased risk of developing this disease.

Complications

Guillain-Barre syndrome affects the nervous system, causing a range of complications affecting nerve function. Patients may experience breathing difficulties, cardiac arrhythmias, blood pressure fluctuations and bowel and bladder dysfunction. Being immobile also puts patients at an increased risk of developing bed sores. Patients may continue to experience residual numbness even after the symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome resolve.

Diagnosis

Guillain-Barre syndrome can be tricky to diagnose initially because many of its symptoms are similar to those caused by meningitis, heavy metal poisoning etc. The disease is diagnosed on the basis of a physical exam, patient medical history, a spinal tap, an electromyography test to check nerve function and nerve conduction tests.

Treatment

Patients with Guillain-Barre syndrome can have a faster recovery when treated early with plasma exchange therapy or immunoglobulin therapy. Plasma exchange helps remove the antibodies in the blood that attack the nerve cells. Immunoglobulin therapy works to block the effect of the antibodies attacking the nerve cells. The patient may also be given medication to reduce blood clots and relieve pain and will need physiotherapy to recover muscle strength and co-ordination.

Prevention

As the cause of Guillain-Barre syndrome is still unknown, we have no preventive strategies for it.

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