Guillain Barre Syndrome

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a condition where a patient’s immune system attacks it’s own nervous system in the body’s appendages.  The first signs of this disease are weakness or tingling in the legs.  Sometimes these abnormal feelings can spread to the arms and upper body as well.  The intensity may increase to the point at which certain body parts cannot be used at all and paralysis can occur.  In the worst of cases, this disorder can be deadly should the weakness affect breathing, blood pressure or heart rate.  Most patients, however, can recover from even the most acute cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome.  Remaining effects can linger, such as muscle weakness in the extremities.  

Guillain-Barre can affect anyone at any age.  Both men and women have equal potential for contracting this disease between ages 30 and 50.  Oftentimes, it can occur after a minor infection of the lungs or gastrointestinal tract.  Symptoms of Guillain-Barré can appear long after the infection has been resolved. 

Physiologically, the disease causes damage to parts of nerve cells called the myelin sheath or cover.  This damage is known as demyelination and it causes the nerve cells to move more slowly.  As the damage escalates, it can cause the nerves to stop working altogether.

Tests that could be conduction may include:

  • Spinal tap (cerebrospinal fluid sample)
  • ECG
  • EMG (electromyography) which tests the electrical activity
  • Nerve conduction velocity test
  • Pulmonary function test

There is no cure for Guillain-Barré – treatment is typically targeted at reducing the symptoms, treating complications and doing anything to speed up recovery.