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Guillain-Barr Syndrome

What is Guillain-Barré syndrome?

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a neurological disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. The onset can be quite sudden and unexpected. The disorder can develop over a few days, or it may take up to several weeks. A person experiences the greatest weakness within the first two weeks after symptoms appear.

What causes Guillain-Barr syndrome?

Currently, it is not known why Guillain-Barr strikes some people. What is known is that the body’s immune system begins to attack the body itself.

Normally, the cells of the immune system attack only foreign material and invading organisms, but in Guillain-Barré syndrome, the immune system starts to destroy the myelin sheath that surrounds the axons of many nerve cells, and, sometimes, the axons themselves.

When this occurs, the nerves cannot send signals efficiently, the muscles lose their ability to respond to the commands of the brain, and the brain receives fewer sensory signals from the rest of the body. The result is an inability to feel heat, pain, and other sensations.

Guillain-Barr syndrome can occur after a viral infection, surgery, trauma, or a reaction to an immunization.

Treatment for Guillain-Barré:

Specific treatment for Guillain-Barr syndrome will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the syndrome
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the syndrome
  • your opinion or preference

Currently, there is no known cure for Guillain-Barré syndrome. The goal of treatment is to prevent breathing problems and provide supportive care (relief of symptoms). Medications are used to control pain and other conditions that may be present. In addition, treatments such as plasmapheresis or immunoglobulin administration may be used to suppress the immune system and/or reduce inflammation caused by the immune system’s response to the disease.

Plasmapheresis is a procedure which removes the plasma (liquid part of the blood) and replaces it with other fluids. Antibodies are also removed with the plasma, which is thought to help reduce the symptoms of the disease. Another treatment is the administration of immunoglobulin, a blood product that helps to decrease the immune system’s attack on the nervous system.

Other therapies include hormonal therapy and physical therapy (to increase muscle flexibility and strength).

Through research, new treatments for Guillain-Barré syndrome are continually being identified.