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Guillain-Barré Syndrome Recovery and Complications

By Deborah Fields, BSc (Hons), PgDip, MCIPR

Guillain-Barré syndrome, a condition that causes rapid loss of muscle function in a patient due to a prior viral or bacterial infection, can trigger an array of different rehabilitation steps.

Recovery time varies from patient to patient. Others are left with symptoms of the disease such as muscle weakness in their limbs, difficulty walking without support and fatigue.

The general expectation is that symptoms get steadily worse over a period of two weeks. The symptoms then plateau within four weeks. The majority of people who get the condition are back to normal health within a year with the recovery generally taking 6-12 months. Some of these patients may have needed to stay in hospital or a neurological rehabilitation unit for several months. At a further extreme, some people’s recovery may take up to three years. Each patient will need a carefully planned bespoke program that suits their particular symptoms during recovery.

For adults with the syndrome, 80% can walk independently after six months of diagnosis, 60% have their motor strength back after a year and 5% – 10% take longer than normal or may never fully recover.

Patients can be left unable to walk properly. They may have to spend the rest of their life in a wheelchair. At times a patient can lose some of their ability to balance and no longer have the same sensing abilities. There may also be heart rhythm problems and difficulty maintaining oxygen levels. A number of different therapies can be employed to help the patient with their recovery.

Physiotherapy

If the patient’s mobility is significantly affected due to the effects of the autoimmune syndrome, the patient may need at least one course of physiotherapy. The approach is often used to help people to move joints, bones and tissues more easily after experiencing an injury or pain and also provides some support against further injuries. It also can have a positive impact following diseases or syndromes that affect the brain, nervous system, lungs and breathing and heart and circulation.

The physiotherapist works with the patient to help them manipulate their limbs more confidently again, increasing the range of movement, improving their strength, posture and motion. Several different kinds of physiotherapy can help such as aquatic therapy in water, exercise regimes and manual therapy where the therapist uses their hands to manipulate the affected areas of the body.

Speech pathology and dieticians

Some people’s speech (dysarthria) and swallowing (dysphagia) are affected by the syndrome because of the impact that it has on the muscles instrumental in these activities. There can be breathing problems and nutritional issues because the patient has been unable to eat normally. The patient may need some assistance talking again with the help of a speech therapist and advice on what to eat from a nutritionist.

Occupational therapists

Not all people make a full physical recovery from the disease and so have to consider how to carry out once familiar activities differently. The disease may leave the patient without the full use of their arms and legs for example, meaning that a whole new way of living needs to be learned. The patient may need help to carry out certain tasks for work or home life. An occupational therapist can help to advise them and take them through any new procedures. The therapist can break tasks down into smaller steps, show the patient alternative ways of completing activities and show them new devices that can assist them.

Psychologists

The syndrome may have altered the patient’s life significantly. The patient may need mental health support to come to terms with any significant changes that result in them feeling stressed, anxious, depressed and withdrawn. Psychologists can help the patient to mentally adjust to changes that have impacted their everyday life through a variety of talking therapies.

Reviewed by , BPharm

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Further Reading

Last Updated: May 25, 2016

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