Guillain-Barré syndrome

What is Guillain-Barré syndrome?

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a disorder in which the body's immune system begins to attack the body itself. No one yet knows why Guillain-Barré strikes some people and not others or what sets the disease in motion. What scientists do know is that the body's immune system begins to attack the body itself, causing what is known as an autoimmune disease, and that it is occasionally triggerd by surgery or vaccinations. Guillain-Barré is called a syndrome rather than a disease because it is not clear that a specific disease-causing agent is involved. This rare illness strikes between two and eight people in every 100,000, regardless of gender or age, although it is more common in the 30 to 50 years age group.



Usually, the symptoms start in the feet or legs with varying degrees of weakness or tingling sensations and progress up the body over a few days or weeks. The disorder can be mild, moderate or severe, with life support needed in the worst cases. In many instances, the weakness and abnormal sensations spread to the arms and upper body. Reflexes such as knee jerks are usually lost. These symptoms can increase in intensity until the muscles cannot be used at all and the patient is almost totally paralyzed. In these cases, the disorder is life-threatening and is considered a medical emergency.

The nerves of the autonomic nervous system can be affected, leading to changes in blood pressure, heart rate, vision, kidney function and body temperature. Potentially fatal complications of Guillain-Barré syndrome include pneumonia, deep vein thrombosis and respiratory failure. The patient is often put on a respirator to assist with breathing. Most people spontaneously recover from even the most severe cases , although some will be left with permanent disabilities and continue to have some degree of weakness.



Guillain-Barré syndrome can be a devastating disorder because of its sudden and unexpected onset. Most people reach the stage of greatest weakness within the first two weeks after symptoms appear, and by the third week of the illness 90 percent of all patients are at their weakest. The recovery period may be as little as a few weeks or as long as a few years. About 30 percent of those with Guillain-Barré still have a residual weakness after 3 years. About 3 percent may suffer a relapse of muscle weakness and tingling sensations many years after the initial attack. There is no evidence to suggest that Guillain-Barré syndrome is contagious.



There is no known cure for Guillain-Barré syndrome, but therapies can lessen the severity of the illness and accelerate the recovery in most patients. There are also a number of ways to treat the complications of the disease. Currently, plasmapheresis and high-dose immunoglobulin therapy are used. Plasmapheresis seems to reduce the severity and duration of the Guillain-Barré episode. In high-dose immunoglobulin therapy, doctors give intravenous injections of the proteins that in small quantities, the immune system uses naturally to attack invading organisms. Investigators have found that giving high doses of these immunoglobulins to Guillain-Barré patients can lessen the immune attack on the nervous system. The most critical part of the treatment for this syndrome consists of keeping the patient's body functioning during recovery of the nervous system. This can sometimes require placing the patient on a respirator, a heart monitor, or other machines that assist body function.

Compiled from various sources on the net.