Nervous System
Guillain-Barré Syndrome

​​Overview:

  • Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare disorder most often affecting nerves throughout the body. 
  • It occurs when the immune system attacks parts of the nervous system.
  • The initial symptoms are usually weakness, tingling and numbness in extremities.
  • The exact cause of the syndrome remains unknown.
  • There are treatments that reduce the severity of the disease and relieve its symptoms.
What is Guillain-Barré syndrome?
It is a rare disease in which the peripheral nerves are attacked and damaged by the immune system. It occurs at all ages but is more common in adults with varying degrees of weakness. Although rare, Guillain-Barré syndrome can lead to complete paralysis of the body

Names:
Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Types:
  • Acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (the most common type)
  • Miller Fisher syndrome
  • Acute motor axonal neuropathy (less common) 
  • Acute motor-sensory axonal neuropathy (less common)
Causes:
The cause of Guillain-Barré syndrome is unknown, but it is often preceded by an infection (viral or bacterial), such as respiratory or gastrointestinal infections. The immune system begins to attack the nerves, causing damage and inflammation to the layer coating the nerve fibers (myelin), thus preventing the nerves from transmitting nerve signals to the brain and leading to weakness, numbness or paralysis.

Risk factors: 
  • Age
  • Viral or bacterial infections (especially with campylobacter)
  • Surgeries
  • Lymphoma
  • HIV/AIDS
Symptoms:
  • Numbness, pricking and weakness in extremities
  • Unbalanced walking
  • Difficulty with eye or face movement
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Blood pressure disorders (getting too high or too low)
  • Difficulty breathing
When to see a doctor? 
You should see a doctor on the onset of any of the previous symptoms and signs, if you are choked with saliva, or if you have difficulty speaking, chewing or swallowing.

Complications:
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart and blood pressure disorders
  • Problems with bowel and bladder functions
  • Constant numbness
  • Thromboembolism
  • Complete paralysis
  • Bedsores
Diagnosis:
It is difficult to diagnose Guillain-Barré in its early stages because of the many disorders that may share the same symptoms. The diagnostic tests include:
  • Clinical examination
  • Medical history
  • Examining a sample from the spinal fluid (lumbar puncture)
Treatment:
There is no known cure for this syndrome, but there are drugs that reduce the severity and alleviate the symptoms. These include:  
  • Replacing the plasma to get rid of certain antibodies that contribute to the immune system’s attack on peripheral nerves;
  • Immunoglobulin (intravenous immunoglobulin): this contains antibodies taken from blood donors to block the antibodies causing the damage;
  • Drugs to relieve the symptoms (e.g. analgesics);
  • Rehabilitation: through physical, functional and speech therapy.
Prevention:
There are no preventive measures that can be taken to prevent the disease, given the fact that its cause remains unknown.

FAQ:
  • Is Guillain-Barré syndrome a hereditary disease?
    • No, it is not a hereditary disease and is not transmitted from one person to another.
  • How long does it take to recover after treatment?
    • The period varies depending on several factors, including the severity of the disease, how fast the syndrome is diagnosed and treated, the body's response to treatment, and the neurological symptoms in particular, and the other symptoms in general.

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