Guillain Barre Syndrome (or GBS) is an auto-immune disorder that causes sudden-onset muscle weakness as a result of the body's immune system attacking the peripheral nervous system. The initial signs and symptoms of the disorder are fatigue and weakness that begins in the hands and feet, eventually affecting the rest of the body. Despite the broad range of symptoms that characterize GBS, doctors rarely find it difficult to diagnose.
The symptoms can develop rapidly and, after first onset, can progress in a matter of hours or days to a couple of weeks. In some cases, the increase in intensity of the symptoms can lead to near paralysis, affecting the patients breathing muscles and facial muscles, causing difficulty swallowing or weakness of the eye muscles, among many other signs and symptoms.
There are several types of GBS, with each one affecting a different part of the peripheral nervous system. The most common of these classifications of the disease is acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (or AIDP).
GBS is thought to affect between 6 and 40 people per 1 million people with varying degrees of severity, while different types and classifications vary depending on region.
Unlike many diseases, Guillain-Barre is not hereditary nor genetic. It can occur in people whose family members have never been affected or have no history of the condition. It is also not contagious and cannot be passed to someone else through any form of contact. Those who have a family member or friend that suffers or suffered from Guillain Barre Syndrome are no more likely than others to develop the disease themselves.
Since genetics do not play a role in the development of Guillain-Barre, anyone can be affected. The causes of Guillain-Barre are currently unknown, however, in many cases the symptoms begin after the patient has had a viral or bacterial infection. Despite these findings, the infection is not actually the cause and only a small percentage of people who suffer a bacterial or viral infection will actually develop the disease.
Most patients who suffer from Guillain-Barre will recover but may remain in the hospital for several months with a full recovery possibly taking up to a full year. Residual weakness is to be expected in recovering patients, however, quality of life improves significantly after 12 months. Rehabilitation is recommended for treatment to ease the pain and discomfort associated with the disorder and to speed up recovery. This includes many treatments, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech-language pathology for those who suffer from facial paralysis. A psychologist is often recommended to treat the fear and anxiety brought on by the illness.
In severe cases, GBS can lead to death, affecting 5% of all cases. Complications that include cardiac arrest, respiratory problems, infection and blood clots are contributing factors to the small percentage of related deaths.
Those that contract Guillain-Barre can rest assured that they cannot pass the disorder on to their children through genetics, as the disease is not hereditary nor contagious.