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What is Guillain-Barré syndrome?

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare and serious health condition. It occurs when the body's immune system (defense system) mistakenly attacks the nervous system. This leads to damage and inflammation of the nerves. The syndrome affects the nerve covering (myelin sheath), which is called demyelination, and causes the nerve signals to move more slowly. If other parts of the nerve are damaged, it may stop working.

Guillain-Barré syndrome is usually classified into four types:

  • Acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (AIDP) – the most common form where weakness starts in your legs and feet
  • Miller-Fisher syndrome (MFS) – weakness starts in the eyes
  • Acute motor sensory axonal neuropathy

What are the symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome?

The main symptoms are:

  • tingling sensation
  • muscle weakness
  • loss of reflexes in arms and legs
  • uncoordinated movements
  • abnormal heart rate
  • muscle pain or sensitivity

If you experience these symptoms you should see your doctor. However, you should seek emergency medical help if you experience:

  • difficulty breathing
  • not being able to breathe deeply
  • fainting
  • drooling
  • feeling dizzy when standing

What are the causes of Guillain-Barré syndrome?

The exact causes of the syndrome are unknown. It can occur in both sexes, and it is more frequent in people between the ages of 30 and 50.

Guillain-Barre syndrome can be triggered by a range of viral infections or bacteria, including:

  • gastrointestinal diseases
  • microplasma pneumonia
  • HIV (very rare cases)
  • herpes simplex
  • mononucleosis
  • lupus erythematosus
  • Hodgkin's disease

Finally, it can be triggered by surgery.

What is the treatment for Guillain-Barré syndrome?

Although there is no cure for Guillain-Barré syndrome, treatment is focused on managing any complications, and accelerating recovery. This can include:

  • apheresis/plasmapheresis, which involves removing and blocking proteins (called antibodies) that attack nerve cells
  • intravenous immunoglobulin, which involves injecting healthy antibodies from a donor and blocking the antibodies causing the damage