GUILLAIN-BARRE SYNDROME is a rare but serious autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks healthy nerve cells in your peripheral nervous system (PNS). This leads to weakness, numbness, and tingling, and can eventually cause paralysis.
The cause is unknown. We do know that about 50% of cases occur shortly after a microbial infection (viral or bacterial), some as simple and common as the flu or food poisoning. Some theories suggest an autoimmune trigger, in which the patient’s defense system of antibodies and white blood cells are called into action against the body, damaging myelin (nerve covering or insulation), leading to numbness and weakness.
GBS in its early stages is unpredictable, so except in very mild cases, most newly diagnosed patients are hospitalized. Usually, a new case of GBS is admitted to ICU (Intensive Care) to monitor breathing and other body functions until the disease is stabilized. Plasma exchange (a blood “cleansing” procedure) and high dose intravenous immune globulins are often helpful to shorten the course of GBS.The acute phase of GBS typically varies in length from a few days to months, with over 90% of patients moving into the rehabilitative phase within four weeks. Patient care involves the coordinated efforts of a team such as a neurologist, physiatrist (rehabilitation physician), internist, family physician, physical therapist, occupational therapist, social worker, nurse, and psychologist or psychiatrist. Some patients require speech therapy if speech muscles have been affected.
There are many variants of GBS, but they all share the characteristic of being ‘rapid onset’:
- Acute Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (AIDP) 75% – 80% of cases fall into this ‘classic’ category
- Acute Motor Axonal Neuropathy (AMAN) Similar to AIDP, but without sensory symptoms
- Acute Motor Sensory Axonal Neuropathy (AMSAN) Severe variant of GBS more prevalent in Asia, Central America, and South America
- Miller Fisher Syndrome Characterized by double vision, loss of balance, and deep tendon reflexes
+ Pain areas:in the muscles
+ Muscular: muscle weakness, abnormality walking, problems with coordination, or weakness of the arms and legs
+ Whole body: fatigue or high blood pressure
+ Heart: abnormal heart rhythm or fast heart rate
+ Also common: difficulty speaking, difficulty swallowing, facial muscle weakness, shortness of breath, slow reflexes, uncomfortable tingling and burning, urinary retention, or difficulty raising the foot
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+ Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
To confirm a diagnosis, two tests may be performed:
- A lumbar puncture looking for elevated fluid protein
- Electrical test of nerve and muscle function
There’s no cure for Guillain-Barre syndrome. But two types of treatments can speed recovery and reduce the severity of the illness:
- Plasma exchange (plasmapheresis). The liquid portion of part of your blood (plasma) is removed and separated from your blood cells. The blood cells are then put back into your body, which manufactures more plasma to make up for what was removed. Plasmapheresis may work by ridding plasma of certain antibodies that contribute to the immune system’s attack on the peripheral nerves.
- Immunoglobulin therapy. Immunoglobulin containing healthy antibodies from blood donors is given through a vein (intravenously). High doses of immunoglobulin can block the damaging antibodies that may contribute to Guillain-Barre syndrome.
METHODS OF HEALING
Here are some great websites, authors, podcasts and other resources to help you navigate your Autoimmune Disease.
These are the women that have shared their autoimmune journey with us. Please take a moment to read some of their brave, honest and revealing stories about their diagnosis, successes, hardships and their lives.