Guillain-Barre Syndrome

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Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), also called acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy and Landry's ascending paralysis, is an inflammatory disorder in which the body's immune system attacks the peripheral nerves. The immune system is a complex and highly developed organization in the body that seeks out and kills foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria. Peripheral nerves are nerves that reside outside of the brain and spinal cord (collectively the central nervous system). Rarely, nerves in the brain or spinal cord are attacked. The peripheral nerves convey sensory information (including pain and temperature) from the body to the brain. Peripheral nerves also convey motor (movement) signals from the brain to the body. In GBS, these functions are affected in varying degrees, from mild to severe.
Individuals with GBS may develop symptoms rapidly. Symptoms include weakness and numbness in the legs and arms. Often, paralysis of the legs, arms, breathing muscles, and face will occur. Symptoms of GBS can develop over the course of hours or days, or it may take up to three to four weeks. Scientists have not discovered why some individuals develop GBS. Some experts consider GBS to be an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases occur when the body's own immune system attacks itself.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), GBS is rare and affects an estimated one to two in every 100,000 persons annually in the United States. Any race is susceptible to GBS, but its incidence increases with age.
Usually GBS occurs a few days or weeks after the patient has had symptoms of a respiratory (breathing) or gastrointestinal (digestive) viral infection. Occasionally, surgery or vaccinations will trigger the syndrome.
GBS may be triggered by pregnancy or a medical procedure, such as a vaccination or minor surgery, or have no evident reason for developing. Because the cause of GBS is unknown, there is no way to prevent the disease from occurring. If symptoms develop, a doctor should be contacted immediately.
In its most severe form, GBS is a medical emergency and may require hospitalization. Severe GBS may result in total paralysis, potentially dangerous changes in heart rate and blood pressure, and inability to breathe without respiratory assistance. The individual is often put on a machine called a respirator to assist with breathing. The muscles used for eye movement, speaking, chewing, and swallowing also may become weak or paralyzed. Individuals with severe GBS often need long-term rehabilitation to regain normal independence and as many as 15% experience lasting physical impairment, such as problems walking, using the arms, or breathing. In some cases, GBS can be fatal.
Most individuals recover from even the most severe cases of GBS, although some continue to have some degree of weakness. Available treatments, if started soon after signs and symptoms appear, may lessen the severity of GBS and reduce recovery time. About 30% of those with Guillain-Barre still have weakness after three years. About three percent may suffer a relapse of muscle weakness and tingling sensations many years after the initial attack.
Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyradicalneuropathy (CIDP): Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyradicalneuropathy (CIDP) is considered to be a chronic autoimmune condition with similar symptoms to Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS). However, it is much less common than GBS and evolves much more slowly and is usually longer lasting. Some individuals with CIDP experience periods of worsening and improvement and individual relapses are often confused with GBS. A doctor can determine through proper diagnosis if an individual has CIDP or GBS.

Related Terms

Acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, antibodies, antidepressant, autoimmune disease, B lymphocytes, bacteria, campylobacter, campylobacteriosis, cardiovascular, CIDP, corticosteroid, counseling, diarrhea, electromyogram EMG, flu, gastrointestinal, hypertension, hypokinesia, immune, immunoglobulin, infectious mononucleosis, inflammatory, inflammatory demyelinating polyradicalneuropathy, influenza, Landry's ascending paralysis, lumbar puncture, microbial, motor, movement disorder, myelin, myelin sheath, NCV, nerve conduction velocity, neurological disorder, opiate, paralysis, parethesia, peripheral nerves, physical therapy, plasmapheresis, pulmonary embolism, respiratory failure, spinal tap, T lymphocytes, vaccination, viral, viral hepatitis.