What is Guillain-Barré Syndrome
Guillain-Barré Syndrome, also called acute inflammatory demyelization polyneuropathy and Landry’s ascending paralysis, is an autoimmune disorder, meaning the body’s immune system attacks the body itself. It is an inflammatory disorder of the peripheral nerves (nerves not part of the brain and spinal cord). GBS is characterized by the rapid onset of weakness and, often, paralysis of the legs, arms, breathing muscles and face. It continues to claim thousands of new victims each year, striking any person, at any age, regardless of gender or ethnic background.
Guillain-Barré syndrome is not hereditary or contagious. What causes GBS is not known, exactly; however, in about half of all cases the onset of the syndrome follows a viral or bacterial infection, such as the following: flu, common cold, gastrointestinal viral infection, infectious mononucleosis, viral hepatitis, campylobacteriosis (usually from eating undercooked poultry), porphyria (rare disease of red blood cells). A small number of cases have been known to occur after a medical procedure, such as minor surgery.
Because its symptoms vary and its cause is unknown, GBS can be difficult to diagnose. Observation of the patient’s symptoms and an evaluation of the medical history provide the basis for diagnosis of Guillain-Barré syndrome, although no single observation is suitable to make the diagnosis.
GBS typically begins with weakness and/or abnormal sensations of the legs and arms. It can also affect muscles of the chest, face and eyes. Although most cases are mild, some patients are virtually paralyzed. Breathing muscles may be so weakened that a ventilating machine is required to keep the patient alive. Many patients require an intensive care unit during the early course of their illness, especially if support of breathing with a machine is required. Although most people recover fully, the length of the illness is unpredictable and often months of hospital care are required. The majority of patients eventually return to a normal or near normal lifestyle, but many endure a protracted recovery and some remain wheelchair-bound indefinitely. Patients may remain in the hospital for several months and recovery may take a year or more. Most patients recover completely, but some have residual weakness, numbness, and occasional pain. A small number are unable to resume their normal occupation. Approximately 5% of GBS patients die. Those fatalities usually result from cardiovascular or respiratory complications.