What is Guillain-Barré Syndrome?


Imagine that you have laid your hand. For example, you fell asleep in an uncomfortable position, and when you woke up you found that you can’t feel the limb. Such numbness is familiar to everyone and passes quite quickly, accompanied by a characteristic tingling. But what if you experience muscle weakness in your arms or legs and the tingling moves to your stomach? Unusual fatigue along with slow reflexes may indicate the development of a rare Guillain-Barré syndrome.

In fact, this is a problem of the nervous system, which is temporary, but in some cases leads to paralysis. Anyone can experience the disease, but most often the syndrome occurs in people aged 50 and older. Guillain-Barre (GBS) appears quickly and usually resolves within 14-30 days. But what is especially interesting is that scientists are still not sure What exactly causes GBS, is it a microbe or virus, such as covid or Zika virus.

Immunity against the body

The immune system protects the body from poisons, microbes, bacteria, fungi and viruses by detecting a wide variety of pathogens and controlling the development of cancer cells (able to divide uncontrollably). Part of the immune system is the spleen, bone marrow, lymph nodes, tonsils, and thymus gland.

In essence, immunity is a system of special cells and proteins that responds to a wide range of pathogens. But when its work is disrupted, the immune system attacks not the pathogen, but healthy cells of the body. Such pathological activity of the immune system can lead to the development of systemic lupus erythematosus (it was diagnosed by the famous Dr. House in the series of the same name), which manifests itself in the form of weakness, fever, headache and skin rash.

Autoimmune diseases are serious health risks and usually difficult to treat.

The group of autoimmune diseases includes about a hundred diseases, including diseases of the skin and joints, nervous and circulatory systems, as well as other organs and tissues. Given the difficulty in diagnosis, many autoimmune diseases remain undetected for many years.

Most often, problems begin after suffering the flu, coronavirus and diseases of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT).

In rare cases, vaccination or surgery can provoke an autoimmune disease. Factors that contribute to autoimmune disease include extrinsic (such as infectious diseases and UV exposure) and intrinsic (gene mutations and recognition of healthy cells). In most cases, autoimmune diseases are hereditary and show up quickly.

Guillain-Barré syndrome

At the beginning of the 20th century, the researchers Barre, Guillain and Strohl described an unknown disease in soldiers of the French army who were paralyzed. Studying the cerebrospinal fluid of patients, scientists came to the conclusion that it contained an increased protein content, but the number of other cells was absolutely normal.

Rarely, limb numbness can be a symptom of GBS.

The studied soldiers recovered earlier than 2 months later, but later it turned out that the SSS was not as harmless as its discoverers believed. So, the onset of the disease is accompanied by unpleasant sensations in the arms and legs, which later pass into the abdomen. The condition is accompanied by severe fatigue, and reflexes slow down. Many patients with GBS feel only mild general weakness, while others are completely paralyzed and have difficulty swallowing or breathing.

If you suspect you have GBS, see your doctor immediately! Weakness and tingling in the arms and legs are usually the first symptoms. In its most severe form, Guillain-Barré syndrome requires emergency medical care and hospitalization.

GBS may develop after experiencing COVID-19

The exact cause of Guillain-Barré syndrome is unknown, and there is no cure for the disease. Current treatments aim to relieve symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness. Fortunately, most people make a full recovery, but in particularly severe cases of GBS, it is fatal and recovery can take several years.

Symptoms of GBS

As the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system, GBS attacks the nerves that control muscle movement. The cause of GBS can be a history of COVID-19, Zika virus, or a gastrointestinal infection, and signs and symptoms include:

  • A tingling sensation in the fingers, toes, ankles, or wrists
  • Weakness in the legs that radiates to the upper body
  • Unsteady walking or inability to walk or climb stairs
  • Difficulty speaking, chewing, or swallowing
  • Severe pain that worsens at night
  • Cardiopalmus
  • Low or high blood pressure
  • Labored breathing

Severe, early symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome greatly increase the risk of serious long-term complications. In rare cases, death can occur as a result of respiratory distress syndrome and a heart attack, experts say.

One of the symptoms of GBS is the absence of reflexes.

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a serious condition that requires immediate hospitalization. The sooner appropriate treatment is started, the greater the chance of a good outcome. As a rule, GBS lasts from 14 to 30 days.

Reasons for the development of GBS

The most common cause of GBS is infection with campylobacter, a type of bacteria found in undercooked poultry that causes gastrointestinal disturbances. According to the Mayo Clinic, risk factors also include previous influenza virus, Epstein-Barr virus, Zika virus, HIV, Hepatitis A, B, C, and E, cytomegalovirus, trauma, and surgery.

GBS is one of the causes of paralysis

Guillain-Barré syndrome has several forms, including the chronic course of the disease. In such cases, treatment will be more aggressive. So, up to 22% of people with Guillain-Barré syndrome need a ventilator during the first week after hospitalization. Given the autoimmune nature of the disease , its acute phase is usually treated with plasmapheresis (blood “cleansing” procedure) and high doses of intravenous immunoglobulins.

Victory over the SGB

Problems after recovery from GBS include residual numbness in the arms and legs, weakness, and problems with breathing and blood pressure. Interestingly, a small percentage of people with Guillain-Barré syndrome are prone to relapse, which manifests itself in the form of muscle weakness even years after recovery.

Neurologists treat GBS

For this reason, all patients with GBS should be monitored to prevent respiratory, cardiovascular, and other medical complications. Earlier we talked about other autoimmune diseases and the reasons for their development. You can read about the gene that causes sclerosis, lupus and diabetes mellitus here. Be healthy!

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