Guillain-Barre Syndrome

1 What is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare medical condition in which the immune system attack nerve cells of peripheral nervous system.

Characteristic symptoms of this condition are tingling and weakness of the arms, legs, and face.

The actual cause of the disease is not known, but in many cases the symptoms appear after respiratory illness or stomach flu.

The symptoms start in the fingers and toes and gradually spread to different parts of the body.

It may worsen and result in paralysis. Severe form of Guillain-Barre syndrome is a medical emergency and hospitalization is required.

There is no complete cure for the condition, but prompt treatment can relieve the symptoms. Some people may have persisting symptoms. 

2 Symptoms

A tingling sensation that spreads from the arms and legs is the most characteristic symptom of Guillain-Barre syndrome. The weakness gradually spreads to upper body. Symptoms can progress rapidly, and muscle weakness may lead to paralysis.

The most common symptoms of this condition include

  • Tingling and numbness in fingers and toes that spreads
  • Muscle weakness in face, arms and legs
  • Difficulty in walking steadily
  • Difficulty in facial movements like chewing, swallowing, and speaking
  • Severe body pain, particularly lower back
  • Inability to control bladder movement
  • Increased heart rate
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Paralysis

The symptoms usually are the worst 2-4 weeks after the appearance of the first symptom. People may start feeling better after this.

3 Causes

The actual cause of Guillain-Barre syndrome is not known. About two-thirds of the people who get this syndrome get it after a respiratory illness or stomach infection.

It is considered that an improper immune response to the previous infection triggers the illness. In some rare cases, surgery and a recent immunization triggers Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Infections that trigger this nervous condition include

This disease is more commonly found in men, particularly in older adults.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Initial symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome resemble that of other neurological disorders, and this makes diagnosis difficult.

Diagnosis starts with a complete medical history of the person and a thorough physical examination.

Tests like spinal tap, electromyography and nerve conduction studies are also recommended.

Spinal tap or lumbar puncture helps to detect the characteristic changes in spinal fluid.

Electromyography is used to measure the activity of nerves in muscles and thus detect whether nerve damage is the cause of muscle weakness.

Nerve conduction studies measure the speed of conduction of signals in muscles. This is done by testing the response of muscles to electrical pulses.  

5 Treatment

There is no complete cure for Guillain-Barre syndrome, but early treatment is essential to avoid rapid progression of symptoms, which may turn fatal.

Any treatment focuses on reducing the severity of the symptoms. This includes

  • Plasma exchange – in this procedure, the antibodies that attack the nervous system is removed from the blood.
  • Immunoglobulin therapy – in this therapy, immunoglobulins containing healthy antibodies are given to block the disease-causing antibodies.

Medications are prescribed to relieve pain and to dissolve the blood clot, if any.

Physical therapy is also an important part of the treatment. This will include exercises to make muscles strong and flexible. This helps to regain strength and to return to normal activities, as soon as possible.

Some people may need training with wheel chair to improve mobility, if muscles are very weak and if symptoms persist. Fatigue is resolved with exercise.

6 Prevention

As the actual cause of Guillain-Barre syndrome is not known, it is difficult to prevent the syndrome.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

A few alternative and homeopathic remedies exist for Guillain-Barre syndrome.

In Ayurveda, winter cherry and country mallow are used in the treatment of this condition.

In homeopathy, Gelsimium is used in relieving symptoms of this condition.

Acupressure, massage, and good diet with immune system boosters are also helpful. 

8 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Guillain-Barre syndrome is painful and may require hospitalization.

As mobility is affected, it is natural for patients to feel stressed out by the time they recover completely.

Having a good support system of family and friends, or a support group is essential.

Counselling may also be help.

9 Risks and Complications

Pain, breathing difficulties, and changes in blood pressure are the most common complications associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Some of them may have a relapse after a period of time.

Blood clots may develop in some, particularly those who are immobile. 

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