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Guillain-Barré Syndrome Treatment

Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network is a leader in treating people diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome. Our experienced team of physicians and therapists helps you recover from the weakness, numbness and paralysis in legs, arms, face and breathing muscles caused by Guillain-Barré syndrome, getting you back to your life and community.


What is Guillain-Barré syndrome?

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. The first symptoms of this disorder include varying degrees of weakness or tingling sensations in the legs. In many instances the weakness and abnormal sensations spread to the arms and upper body. These symptoms can increase in intensity until certain muscles cannot be used at all and, when severe, the patient is almost totally paralyzed. In these cases the disorder is life threatening – potentially interfering with breathing and, at times, with blood pressure or heart rate – and is considered a medical emergency. Such a patient is often put on a respirator to assist with breathing and is watched closely for problems such as an abnormal heart beat, infections, blood clots and high or low blood pressure. Most patients, however, recover from event the most severed cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, although some continue to have a certain degree of weakness.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome

Guillain-Barré syndrome can affect anybody. It can strike at any age and both sexes are equally prone to the disorder. The syndrome is rare, however, afflicting only about one person in 100,000. Usually Guillain-Barré occurs a few days or weeks after the patient ahs had symptoms of a respiratory or gastrointestinal viral infection. Occasionally surgery or vaccinations will trigger the syndrome.

After the first clinical manifestations of the disease, the symptoms can progress over the course of hours, days or weeks. Most people reach the stage of greatest weakness within the first two weeks after symptoms appear, and by the third week of the illness 90 percent of all patients are at their weakest.

What are the signs and symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome?

Signs and symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome may include:

  • Difficulty with eye muscles and vision
  • Difficulty swallowing, speaking, or chewing
  • Pricking or pins and needles sensations in the hands and feet
  • Pain that can be severe, particularly at night
  • Coordination problems and unsteadiness
  • Abnormal heart beat/rate or blood pressure
  • Problems with digestion and/or bladder control.

What Causes Guillain-Barré syndrome?

No one yet knows why Guillain-Barré syndrome – which is not contagious – strikes some people and not others. Nor does anyone know exactly what sets the disease in motion.

What scientists do know is that the body’s immune system begins to attack the body itself, causing what is known as an autoimmune disease. Usually the cells of the immune system attack only foreign material and invading organisms. In Guillain-Barré syndrome, however, the immune system starts to destroy the myelin sheath that surrounds the axons of many peripheral nerves, or even the axons themselves (axons are long, thin extensions of the nerve cells; they carry nerve signals). The myelin sheath surrounding the axon speeds up the transmission of the nerve signals and allows the transmission of signals over long distances.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome

When Guillain-Barré syndrome is preceded by a viral or bacterial infection, it is possible that the virus has changed the nature of cells in the nervous system so that the immune system treats them as foreign cells. It is also possible that the virus makes the immune system itself less discriminating about what cells it recognizes as its own, allowing some of the immune cells, such as certain kinds of lymphocytes and macrophages, to attack the myelin. Sensitized T lymphocytes cooperate with B lymphocytes to produce antibodies against components of the myelin sheath and may contribute to destruction of the myelin. Scientists are investigating these and other possibilities to find why the immune system goes awry in Guillain-Barré syndrome and other autoimmune diseases.

The cause and course of Guillain-Barré syndrome are active areas of neurological investigation, incorporating the cooperative efforts of neurological scientists, immunologists and virologists.

Treatment for Guillain-Barré syndrome

There is no known cure for Guillain-Barré syndrome. However, there are therapies that lessen the severity of the illness and accelerate the recovery in most patients.

Patients have access to a full team of rehabilitation and medical professionals including physiatrists, physical, occupational and speech therapists, pain specialists, and psychologists.

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