Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a rare nerve disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system includes the nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord to the limbs, as well as the nerve coverings, called myelin, that insulate the peripheral nerves. These nerves help control muscle movement and carry sensory signals from the body to the brain. Guillain-Barré syndrome can affect anyone. Fortunately, most people make a full recovery.
- 1 Signs and Symptoms of Guillain-Barré Syndrome
- 2 Causes and risk factors of Guillain-Barré syndrome
- 3 How is Guillain-Barré syndrome diagnosed?
- 4 Duration of Guillain-Barré syndrome
- 5 Treatment and Medication Options for Guillain-Barré Syndrome
- 6 Prevention of Guillain-Barré syndrome
- 7 Complications of Guillain-Barré Syndrome
- 8 Research and statistics: How many people have Guillain-Barré syndrome?
- 9 Associated Conditions and Causes of Guillain-Barré Syndrome
Signs and Symptoms of Guillain-Barré Syndrome
The first symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome are often tingling sensations or weakness in the feet and legs. These sensations can extend to the arms and face.
In very severe cases, people with GBS may lose all muscle function and movement, becoming temporarily paralyzed:
Signs and symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome may include:
– a “tingling” sensation in the fingers, toes, ankles or wrists
– muscle weakness that starts in the legs and spreads to the upper body
– Unsteady walking, including climbing stairs
– Difficulty performing eye or facial movements (blinking, chewing, speaking).
– Difficulty controlling the bowels or bladder.
– Rapid heart rate
– Difficulty breathing
– Blood pressure too high or too low
– Double vision or difficulty moving the eyes
– Severe pain that gets worse in the evening
Symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome can vary depending on the type. There are three main types:
Acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (PIDA)
The most common symptom is muscle weakness that begins in the lower body and spreads to the upper body. This type of disease is most commonly found in North America and Europe.
Miller Fisher Syndrome (MFS)
Symptoms include paralysis of the eyes and unsteady gait. This type is more common in Asia.
Acute motor axonal neuropathy (AMAN) and acute motor-sensory axonal neuropathy (AMSAN)
Symptoms may include severe pain and acute weakness in the hands and feet. Both of these types are more common in Japan, China, and Mexico.
If the above symptoms start to appear, you should immediately contact your doctor or go to the emergency room for treatment.
Causes and risk factors of Guillain-Barré syndrome
Doctors don’t know what causes Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). Many people with GBS have a respiratory or gastrointestinal infection or the Zika virus about six weeks before the onset of GBS symptoms.
Other risk factors for GBS may include:
– Being infected with Campylobacter jejuni, which causes diarrhea
– Certain vaccinations
– A surgical intervention
– a bone marrow transplant.
How is Guillain-Barré syndrome diagnosed?
Before diagnosing Guillain-Barré syndrome, your doctor will perform a complete physical and neurological exam to rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms. Your doctor may then recommend additional tests to detect and measure changes in nerve function.
These tests may include:
– Lumbar puncture
Your doctor will insert a needle into your lower back and take a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid for analysis.
Thin needles are inserted into certain muscles to measure nerve activity in the muscles.
– Nerve conduction
You will receive small shocks from electrodes attached to your skin, which will allow your doctor to measure nerve function.
Duration of Guillain-Barré syndrome
While most people fully recover from GBS, the process can be long. Healing can take from a few weeks to a few years. Symptoms usually plateau within four weeks, and recovery takes 6 to 12 months. For some people, recovery can take up to three years.
Treatment and Medication Options for Guillain-Barré Syndrome
There is no cure for GBS, but some treatments can reduce the severity of the disease and speed recovery. People with GBS are usually treated in a hospital. Some need respiratory support, a heart monitor or other medical devices to help them perform basic bodily functions while their nerves recover.
Two main types of therapies are used to treat GBS:
Plasma exchange (plasmapheresis)
In this procedure, blood is taken from the body and processed so that the blood cells are separated from the liquid part of the blood. The blood cells are then returned to the body. Plasma exchange appears to reduce the severity and duration of symptoms in some people with GBS.
High-dose immunoglobulin therapy
This treatment involves injecting high doses of special proteins that help reduce the immune system’s attack on the body’s nerve cells.
Prevention of Guillain-Barré syndrome
Since the cause of Guillain-Barré syndrome is unknown, there is no way to prevent it.
Complications of Guillain-Barré Syndrome
In very severe cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, muscle weakness can impair your ability to breathe. Some people with GBS need a tube and a respirator to help them breathe.
Most people make a full recovery from GBS, but some people have lingering problems, including:
– minor weakness, numbness or tingling
– recurrent nerve pain
– sluggish bowels or inability to completely empty the bladder
– fluctuations in blood pressure
– an irregular heartbeat
– Blood clots
Research and statistics: How many people have Guillain-Barré syndrome?
Guillain-Barré syndrome is rare.
It is estimated that approximately 1 in 100,000 people develop GBS each year in Europe.
Anyone can get GBS, but the disease is most common in adults over the age of 50, and more men than women are diagnosed with GBS each year.
Associated Conditions and Causes of Guillain-Barré Syndrome
The following diseases can cause Guillain-Barré syndrome:
– flu virus
– Epstein-Barr virus
– Zika virus
– Hepatitis A, B, C and E
– Mycoplasma pneumonia
– Campylobacter infection
– Hodgkin’s lymphoma
– COVID-19 infection