Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS)
Guillain Barre Syndrome is an uncommon neurological disorder. The syndrome was initially named after two medical students who were studying neurology and serving as French Army doctors in WWI. They were intrigued by multiple cases of unexplainable paralysis they found amongst soldiers and wrote a paper in 1916 regarding their experiences.
Guillain Barre Syndrome is not hereditarily or communicably transmitted. It does not discriminate and can develop at any age (although it is seen more predominantly in adults and the elderly). Men and women are equally vulnerable to the disorder. One person in 100,000 per year are diagnosed with Guillain Barre Syndrome or GBS. With this disorder, your body’s immune system wrongly attacks healthy areas of their peripheral nervous system (consisting of the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord). Guillain Barre Syndrome affects the nerves that are in charge of the muscle movements along with nerves that distribute and display pain, temperature, and touch awareness or feeling of the body.
The exact known cause of GBS is not known. Because GBS it is not contagious or inherited, researchers are unsure why it affects some people and not others. However, researchers have found that most cases usually start a few days or weeks after contracting a viral or bacterial infection such as a respiratory or gastrointestinal infection. They have also found that in some patients, surgery can trigger the syndrome. In very rare cases, vaccinations were seen to contribute to the onset of GBS. Most recently, a few countries worldwide have reported an increase in cases of GBS with those linked to the Zika virus.
Symptoms of this disorder can vary from person to person but the most common are weakness or tingling sensations that begin in the lower limbs then move to the upper limbs and face and lead to paralysis in the muscles. Around 25 percent of people report paralysis of the muscles in their chest area causing breathing problems. In severe cases, GBS affects the swallowing and speaking mechanisms can cause blood infection, heart problems and blood clots in the lungs.
Some noted symptoms are:
Tingling sensations in fingers, toes and in the wrist and ankle joints
Arm and leg weakness
Walking imbalance and inability to climb steps
Facial problems such as swallowing
Bladder and bowel difficulties
Increased or decreased BP
Inhaling and exhaling constriction
Pressure sores and bed sores
Diagnosing GBS early on maybe tricky because some of the symptoms can be confused with neurological disorders. Doctors use a few different methods in order to diagnose GBS. Spinal taps or lumbar punctures, Electromyography and Nerve conduction studies are commonly utilized. NCS (Nerve Conduction Studies) are used to determine the diagnostic value of a conduction blockage in the early stages of GBS, as well as its progression during of the development of the disease. Signs of demyelination (damage of the myelin sheath of the peripheral nerves) are found by using Nerve Conduction Studies. In GBS, nerve conduction decreases so a nerve conduction velocity test (NCV, which measures the nerve’s signal potential) is conducted. Electrodes are attached to the skin near the nerves to be studied and a tiny shock is passed through the nerve to record/measure the speed of nerve signals. A spinal tap or a lumbar puncture means that a needle is inserted into the patient’s back and cerebrospinal fluid is sampled and tested. In Electromyography, thin-needle electrodes are inserted into the muscles to record their activity or lack of.
There is no cure for Guillain-Barre syndrome. However, there are treatments given to patients to help tolerate the illness and decrease its affect on the body.
Plasma exchange (plasmapheresis) is a process that filters the blood and removes harmful antibodies. It is a process similar to dialysis, but it particularly removes antibodies from the plasma side of the blood. Plasma exchange eases the assault on the peripheral nerves. Immunoglobulin therapy intravenously uses donor blood to help defend the red blood cells from the attacks of the white blood cells and large doses can block damaging antibodies.
These treatments are effectively similar. Patients are also most likely to be given medication to relieve severe pain and prevent potential blood clotting when physically impaired. Physical therapy is also common before and during recovery periods to strengthen weakened muscles and improve bodily movement, motion and tightened muscle stiffness.
The majority of patients (around 80%) recover fully, but it may take years of therapy and treatments and months in a hospital. Some patients do not recover entirely and have continued bouts of weakness, numbness and pain. A small few are not able to return to work. Todays resources make the result of death from GBS a rarity, but is does happen in about 5% of cases and seems to occur more commonly in the elderly.
There is still further research being conducted and needed for further treatment and progress of this syndrome. Until there is a cure there will be new patients and more suffering. Funding for research is still being sought after to this day