Syndrome Guillain Barre is a rare nerve disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. Warning signs usually start with numbness or tingling in the toes and fingers, along with muscle weakness in the legs and arms. Such symptoms develop over a few days to weeks and can progress to paralysis. Some people cannot breathe and swallow. The cause of this disease is still unknown, but it often follows a viral or bacterial infection.
Syndrome Guillain Barre: Causes
Guillain-Barre syndrome is an autoimmune condition (the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissue). What causes the immune system to do this is still unknown. Most people develop Guillain-Barre syndrome after suffering another illness, usually a viral infection, such as influenza, the common cold, a throat infection, or a bacterial infection.
The disease is believed to trigger the immune system to destroy peripheral nerves and nerve roots. The peripheral nervous system manages the body’s senses and movements. It is impossible for Guillain-Barre syndrome to be spread from one person to another and it is not inherited, either.
1. Syndrome Guillain Barre: Immune response
The immune system makes use of white blood cells to generate antibodies. Antibodies are infection-fighting proteins that defeat the bacteria or viruses causing the infection. In Guillain-Barre syndrome, however, the antibodies react to the cells of the peripheral nerves’ protective covering (myelin sheath). This destroys the nerves and slows down the signals sent to your muscles, causing the symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome, such as numbness, tingling, weakness and, in some cases, temporary paralysis.
2. Syndrome Guillain Barre: Possible triggers
Most cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome develop after:
- a virus – e.g. the cytomegalovirus, the Epstein-Barr virus, or HIV
- a bacterial infection – e.g. infection from Campylobacter bacteria, a leading cause of food poisoning
3. Syndrome Guillain Barre: Vaccination
In the past, vaccinations (especially the swine flu vaccination used during 1976-1977) were thought to be a potential cause of Guillain-Barre syndrome. However, successive studies have shown there is no risk of developing Guillain-Barre after being vaccinated. During the 2009-2010 swine flu epidemic, about 6 million doses of Pandemrix vaccine were given in the United Kingdom. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency received 15 suspected reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome. The diagnosis, however, was not confirmed in any of these cases.
Syndrome Guillain Barre: Symptoms
Symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome may develop quickly over a few hours. Therefore the muscle weakness becomes worse within a few days or weeks. The first symptoms develop 2-4 weeks after a minor infection, including a cold, sore throat or gastroenteritis.
Most of all symptoms often start in your feet and legs before spreading to your arms and hands. In the beginning, you may have:
- tingling and numbness
- progressive muscle weakness, which usually affects both sides of your body and might become worse over a period of several days
- balance and movement problems (unable to walk independently)
In more severe cases, the muscle weakness may progress to:
- paralysis of the respiratory muscles
- paralysis of the legs, arms, and face
- blurred or double vision
- difficulty with digestion or bladder control
- difficulty speaking, chewing or swallowing, resulting in the need to be fed through a tube
- fluctuations in heart rate or blood pressure
Some patients with Guillain-Barre syndrome do not experience any pain while others suffer severe pain in their spine, arms, and legs.
Syndrome Guillain Barre: When to Seek Medical Assistance
See your doctor if you notice any of the symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome. Seek immediate medical assistance if you begin to feel:
- temporary paralysis of the limbs or face
- fainting (loss of consciousness)
- difficulty breathing
- difficulty swallowing
Syndrome Guillain Barre: Diagnosis
Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish the symptoms of Guillain-Barre from other brain and nervous system disorders. As a result, two tests are used to confirm the diagnosis. They are:
- Lumbar puncture – a small needle removes a small amount of fluid from the spinal canal for analysis.
- Electro myography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies – tests that measure nerve and muscle function.
The doctor may also order blood tests to rule out other possible causes.
Syndrome Guillain Barre: Immune therapy
Guillain-Barre syndrome is treat with immune therapy, which improves the body’s immune system and its capacity to fight disease by removing the antibodies that are attacking the body. Though this syndrome can be fatal, most people recover fully with few lasting problems.
Two types of immune therapy can be use to treat Guillain-Barre syndrome:
- Plasma exchange (plasma pheresis) is a procedure wherein the liquid portion (plasma) of the patient’s blood is remove from the red and white blood cells and replace by a saltwater (saline) and albumin (protein) solution. Therefore it separates antibodies and other harmful factors from the bloodstream. As conclusion this method requires access to large veins, which might not be possible for some people, and consequently it could be risky in the elderly or in those who have heart disease.
- Intravenous immune globulin (IVIG) is a treatment often used to upgrade the body’s immune system and allow it to fight disease. Immune globulin’s (also known as gamma globulin’s) are proteins in human blood. Such proteins are antibodies that help the immune system recognize and eliminate exotic substances, such as bacteria and viruses. Since immune globulin is generated from donated blood fluids, it is at times in short supply and might not be available everywhere.
One of these methods is started after you have been diagnosed. Early treatment may decrease your recovery time. Therefore plasma exchange and IVIG seem to be equally effective when taken early in the course of the disorder. Their costs are similar, too. The choice of one and the other depends on what is available and most practical.
Syndrome Guillain Barre: Complications
- Breathing difficulty (respiratory failure)
- Breathing food or fluids into the lungs
- Skin damage (ulcers)
- Low or unstable blood pressure
- Slow bowel or bladder function
- Increased risk of infections
- Permanent paralysis
- Shortening of tissues in the joints or other deformities
- Lingering weakness, numbness, or other sensations even after recovery
- Blood clots and bedsores when the patient is inactive or has to stay in bed
Syndrome Guillain Barre: Recovery
Most patients with syndrome Guillain-Barre have a full recovery. However, some need to spend several weeks or months in the hospital, and it takes them a year or more to recover completely. Therefore therapies such as counseling, physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, and occupational therapy are available to help you recover.
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