Guillain Barre Virus is a rare yet serious autoimmune disorder wherein the immune system attacks healthy nerve cells in the peripheral nervous system. It leads to weakness, tingling, numbness, and eventually paralysis. The cause of this condition is unknown, but it is often triggered by an infectious illness, such as stomach flu or a lung infection. Guillain Barre Virus is rare, affecting only about 1 in 100,000 people.
1. Guillain Barre Virus: Causes
The exact cause of Guillain-Barre is still unknown. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two-thirds of patients with Guillain-Barre develop it soon after they have been sick with diarrhea or a respiratory infection. For this reason, the disorder is believed to be triggered by an inadequate immune response to the previous illness.
Guillain-Barre is also associated with Campylobacter jejuni infection. This is one of the most common causes of diarrhea. It is also the most common risk factor for Guillain-Barre. Campylobacter is usually found in undercooked food, particularly poultry.
Guillain-Barre can be caused by the following infections:
- Epstein-Barr virus infection or mononucleosis
- HIV or AIDS
- mycoplasma pneumonia
Anyone can contract Guillain-Barre, but men and older adults are at higher risk. In extremely rare cases, some people can develop the disorder several days or weeks after receiving a vaccination. The CDC has systems in place to observe the safety of vaccines, identify early warning signs of side effects, and report any cases of Guillain-Barre that follow vaccination.
2. Guillain Barre Virus: Symptoms
The first symptom of Guillain-Barre is usually a tingling sensation in your legs, feet, and toes. The tingling then spreads upward to your arms and fingers, with a rapid progress. In some cases, the disease can be severe in just a few hours. Other symptoms of Guillain-Barre include:
- difficulty breathing, walking, talking, chewing, and swallowing
- difficulty moving your eyes
- fast heart rate
- loss of bladder control
- muscle weakness in your legs, traveling to your upper body and getting worse over time
- tingling in your fingers and toes
- severe lower back pain
3. Guillain Barre Virus: Diagnosis
It is hard to diagnose Guillain-Barre at first since the symptoms are very similar to those of other neurological conditions or disorders that attack the nervous system, such as botulism, meningitis, or heavy metal poisoning. The doctor will ask questions about your medical history and specific symptoms. Do not forget to tell the doctor about any unusual symptoms you are experiencing and if you have had any past or recent illnesses or infections.
The following tests are also used to help confirm a diagnosis:
- Nerve Conduction Tests
Nerve conduction studies can be used to verify how well your nerves and muscles react upon small electrical pulses.
This is a nerve function test. It analyzes the electrical activity from muscles to help the doctor learn whether your muscle weakness is trigger by nerve damage or muscle damage.
- Spinal Tap
Also refer to as a lumbar puncture, a spinal tap involves extracting a small amount of fluid from your spine. This fluid, call cerebrospinal fluid, is then tested to detect protein levels. Patients with Guillain-Barre often have higher-than-normal levels of protein in their cerebrospinal fluid.
4. Guillain Barre Virus: Treatment
People with Guillain-Barre should check in a hospital for close monitoring. The symptoms can get worse quickly and can be lethal if they are not treated. In severe cases, some patients can develop full-body paralysis. Guillain-Barre can become life-threatening if paralysis attacks the diaphragm or chest muscles and prevents breathing.
There is no cure for Guillain-Barre. The goal of treatment is to reduce the severity of your symptoms and keep your body operating while your nervous system recovers. Here are two kinds of treatment:
The immune system produces proteins (antibodies) that typically attack harmful foreign substances, such as viruses and bacteria. Guillain-Barre happens when your immune system erroneously makes antibodies that damage the healthy nerves of your nervous system.
These antibodies will be remove from your blood thanks to plasmapheresis. During this procedure, your blood is extracted from your body by a machine. This machine then removes the antibodies from your blood and returns the blood to your body.
- Intravenous Immunoglobulin
High doses of immunoglobulin also help to block the antibodies causing Guillain-Barre. Normal, healthy antibodies from donors are present in immunoglobulin. Plasmapheresis and intravenous immunoglobulin are evenly effective. It is up to you and your doctor to determine which treatment is best for you.
While you are immobile, you might be given medication to reduce pain and prevent blood clots. Physical therapy is also beneficial for you. During the recovery, caregivers will manually move your arms and legs to maintain their flexibility. Once you recover, the next step is to strengthen your muscles again.
5. Guillain Barre Virus: Complications
Guillain-Barre affects your nerves. The following weakness and paralysis can affect numerous parts of your body. When the weakness or paralysis spreads to muscles that control breathing, difficulty breathing may occur. A machine called a respirator is needed to help you breathe. Other complications may include:
- slow bowel or bladder function
- heart or blood pressure problems
- blood clots and bedsores due to paralysis
- weakness, numbness, lingering or other odd sensations after recovery
6. Guillain Barre Virus: Outlook
The recovery period for Guillain-Barre virus might be long, taking anywhere from weeks to years. Most patients recover completely, however. In general, symptoms become worse within 2-4 weeks before they stabilize. Most people recover in 6-12 months.
According to the Mayo Clinic, 80 percent of patients can walk with no help at six months, and 60 percent recover their normal muscle strength. For some, unfortunately, recovery takes longer. 30 percent still suffer weakness after three years. Only 3 percent of patients experience a relapse of their symptoms.
In very rare cases, the condition can be fatal if you do not take treatment. Factors that may result in a worse outcome include:
- old age
- delay of treatment
- prolonged use of a respirator
- severe or rapidly progressing illness
Above and beyond physical symptoms, emotional difficulties will bother you as well. It can be challenging to adapt to limited mobility and a sudden dependence on others. Talking to a therapist is a helpful way.
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