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What You Need To Know About Guillain-Barre Syndrome

A rare condition, Guillain-Barre syndrome leads to muscle weakening. In this disorder, the immune system of the body attacks healthy nerve cells. This serious autoimmune disorder leads to tingling, weakness, numbness and eventually paralysis. This is one of the rarest autoimmune disorders that affect 1 in 100,000 Americans and till date, no cure has been found. However, there are several treatments that can help reduce the severity of the symptoms and decrease the illness duration.

Guillain-Barre Causes
The precise cause of this autoimmune disorder is still not known. However, according to CDC (Centers for disease control and prevention) a majority of people suffer from this disease as soon as they have been sick with a respiratory infection or diarrhea. The Guillain-Barre infection has also been associated with Campylobacter jejuni, which is one of the most common causes of diarrhea. This bacterium is found in uncooked food, more common in poultry.
Other infections associated with this autoimmune disorder include:

  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Influenza
  • Mycoplasma pneumonia
  • Epstein- Barr

Symptoms associated with Guillain-Barre
In this disease, the peripheral nervous system is attacked by the immune system. The muscles from the brain are unable to respond to the signals if they are damaged, therefore the first symptom usually seen or felt is the tingling sensation in legs, toes or feet. The sensation spread fast to the arms and fingers and the symptoms progress rapidly.
Some of the most commonly seen symptoms are:

  • Prickly sensations in toes and fingers
  • Difficulty in walking steadily
  • Fast heart beat
  • Difficulty in moving face, swallowing or chewing
  • Loss of control over bladder
  • Severe lower back pain
  • Paralysis
  • Low or high blood pressure
  • Weakness in the legs

How to diagnose the symptoms?
It is difficult to diagnose this neurological disorder at the first place; however, the doctor can still make the diagnosis by asking the patient some specific questions and by reading the medical history of the patient.
Here are some tests that are generally followed by the doctors to confirm the diagnosis:

  • Spinal Tap

This process involves taking up a small amount of spinal fluid from the lower back and testing it to detect the protein levels. Patients suffering from Guillain-Barre have higher than normal protein levels in the cerebrospinal fluid.

  • Nerve Conduction Tests

This test helps the doctors to test how well the muscles and nerves respond to the electrical pulses.

  • Electromyography

This is a nerve function test which reads electrical activity from the muscle and helps the doctor find the real cause behind muscle weakness.

When to see a doctor?
People often feel, it’s ok to experience a little tingling in the fingers and toes. However, if you feel that the tingling sensation is spreading throughout your body and is getting worse with time, it is the right time to seek medical help. Some other symptoms that sign toward calling a doctor include:

  • Difficulty catching your breath
  • Tingling sensation that is moving up the body
  • Choking on saliva
  • Rapidly spreading weakness

Risk Factors
Guillain-Barre can affect a person belonging to any age group, but if you are a grown up man, you have a slightly greater risk. The symptoms of this neurological disease may be triggered by:

  • Infection with campylobacter
  • HIV, the virus that causes AIDS
  • Influenza virus
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Influenza vaccinations
  • Mycoplasma pneumonia

Treatments and Drugs
The symptoms of Guillain-Barre, if not treated on time, can worsen. Therefore to avoid this situation, the patient should be admitted to the hospital as soon as possible. The goal of the treatment offered by the doctors is to decrease the severity of the symptoms. The treatment includes:

  • Plasmapheresis:

Often known as plasma exchange, Plasmapheresis is a process to remove antibodies that attack the nerves. In this procedure, the liquid portion of the blood is removed and blood cells are separated. The cells are then put back into the body to manufacture new plasma. This procedure may work in about 80% of the patients.

  • Immunoglobulin therapy:

In this procedure, high dose of immunoglobulin is given through a vein which further blocks the damaging antibodies and prevents the symptoms.
Both the therapies are equally effective; however, the doctor can choose a treatment based on your symptoms.