Guillain Barre Syndrome is a serious, life threatening auto immune paralysis disorder affecting the nervous system. The disease occurs when the body's own immune system attacks parts of its own peripheral nervous system.
In normal cases, the immune system only attacks foreign invaders but in GBS, the immune system attacks the outer sheath that surrounds the nerves. When the peripheral nerve sheath is affected, the nerve fails to transmit signals effectively, leading to muscles failing to respond effectively. The symptoms are first noticed in the legs, hands or face and can spread to other parts of the body.
Some of the common symptoms of Guillain Barre Syndrome include:
If not addressed, Guillain Barre Syndrome can lead to loss of muscle function and eventually paralysis. An attack can be life threatening.
Though rare, affecting 1 in 100,000 people, the disease can affect anyone, regardless of gender and age and can strike at any time. It has been noted that older male adults are more at risk. The cause of this disease is unknown but it is usually triggered by a bacterial or viral infection. Surgery and vaccinations are known to slightly increase the chances of an attack. The disease is however not contagious and cannot be inherited.
It can take as little as a few hours to as long as a month for the condition to develop and reach its peak. After reaching its peak, it can take several weeks to years for a patient to recover.
Diagnosis usually begins with a thorough medical history and physical examination. It is difficult to diagnose the syndrome early because of its similarity with other auto immune syndromes.
A test known as Nervous Conduction Velocity is usually conducted to determine the amount of protein in the cerebrospinal fluid. If the amount of protein in elevated, doctors then perform a spinal tap and electromyography for further clarification.
In extreme cases, Guillain-Barre Syndrome can lead to ICU admissions and even fatalities when the respiratory system is severely affected. It is important for a patient to stay in hospital for monitoring until doctors confirm that the syndrome has reached its peak and is now reversing. There is no known cure for GBS. For a positive long-term prognosis, early detection and proper treatment is crucial.
Some of the treatments used to deal with GBS include exchange of plasma and IVIG- Intravenous Immunoglobulin treatments. Drugs such as Corticosteroids which can be administered orally or intravenously have been found to be very effective. Therapy can also help reduce the severity of the condition as well as speed up recovery after an attack.
While some patients fully recover after an episode, some have to live with the effects of GBS for the rest of their lives. Guillain-Barre Syndrome usually recurs in about 5% of patients.
While Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a serious and even life threatening syndrome, prognosis indicated that with the right information and care, it can be manage to allow patients enjoy a relatively healthy life.