By Deborah Fields, BSc (Hons), PgDip, MCIPR
Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune condition that can result in rapid and severe muscle weakness in a patient, can affect people of all ages across the world. Both men and women can be affected by the condition and incidence is higher in older people. The condition presents itself differently in patients and depending on the subtype that affects each patient, their symptoms will vary.
Diagnosis of the syndrome can be difficult as muscle weakness can be a symptom of many diseases. However, the onset of muscle weakness in Guillain-Barré syndrome is very quick. Medical teams can carry out specific tests to help diagnose or rule out this syndrome. A lumbar puncture helps draw and test cerebrospinal fluid of patients for protein levels and WBC count. A nerve conduction study can also be used by medical staff to assess the function of the nerve while an electromyography helps determine the health status of a muscle. The results of these tests help physicians in the diagnosis of the syndrome.
A dedicated medical team uses various recovery techniques to improve the health of patients affected by Guillain-Barré syndrome. Recovery will take into account the fact that the syndrome is an autoimmune condition with the body attacking itself.
Plasmapheresis and intravenous immunoglobulins
Plasmapheresis and intravenous immunoglobulin administration are types of immunotherapy used to treat this condition. With plasmapheresis, the process involves cleaning out the substances that are attacking the peripheral nervous system from the patient’s blood. The patient is connected to a device that removes some of their blood, extracts the plasma, and then puts the filtered blood cells back into the body. The blood cells go on to make more healthy plasma to replace the plasma that was removed. This process is useful for patients in the first four weeks of developing symptoms of the disease.
In intravenous immunoglobulin administration, immunoglobulins from blood donors are introduced into the blood stream of the patients having Guillain-Barré syndrome to help them fight and eliminate the harmful antibodies that attack their body. The patient is given immunoglobulin injections for five consecutive days in order to treat the syndrome.
Both these immunotherapy techniques have similar effects on patients and encourage the patient’s immune systems to fight the syndrome.
If the patient’s breathing has been compromised by the syndrome affecting the muscles that help them to breathe, he or she can have the assistance of a mechanical respiratory machine inserted into the windpipe. This helps by performing breathing on the patient’s behalf and by keeping oxygen levels up as low O2 levels can be fatal.
The patient may need to have an extended stay in the hospital to recover from their disease. This may also involve some periods in intensive care. Treatment can take months based on how severely a patient has been affected.
Reviewed by Susha Cheriyedath, MSc
Last Updated: May 19, 2016