An encounter with Guillain Barre syndrome can be a harrowing experience because it can cause whole body paralysis within a matter of hours. For many, total paralysis takes a couple of weeks.
Guillain Barre paralyzing syndrome is caused by your own immune system attacking the myelin sheath and axons of your peripheral nerves. This destruction causes signaling disruptions to your brain, which results in your inability to feel sensations.
Guillain-Barre syndrome typically starts with weakness, tingling or loss of sensation in your periphery. Your fingers and toes may begin to fall into muscle weakness paralysis without much notice.
As this uncommon paralyzing condition progresses and spreads up your arms and legs, you may struggle with these symptoms:
- unsteady gait
- pins & needles
- inability to walk
- low blood pressure
- breathing problems
- very slow heart rate
- severe lower back pain
- spreading muscle weakness
- bladder control, intestinal function issues
- eye movement, facial movement, speaking, chewing, swallowing difficulties
These symptoms can increase to the point that some muscles may not be usable.
In severe cases of almost total paralysis, the situation may become life threatening. Guillain Barre syndrome lands some in the hospital for respiratory failure breathing assistance and monitoring for:
- blood clots
- infections ~ UTI
- abnormal heart beat
- aspiration pneumonia
- autonomic dysfunction
- deep venous thrombosis
- low, high blood pressure
- secondary pulmonary embolism
Despite this extreme health situation, nearly all recover if they survive this phase.
Very often those experiencing Guillain-Barre syndrome follow this general paralyzing course:
- condition progressively worsens for about two weeks
- symptoms plateau & remains steady for up to a month
- 6-12 month paralysis & muscle weakness recovery period begins
A third of Guillain Barre sufferers have residual weakness after 3 years. And a relapse of muscle weakness and tingling sensations recurs many years later to a few.
A couple of health related Guillain Barre syndrome trigger suspects include:
- Epstein-Barr virus
- Hodgkin’s disease
- rabies, influenza vaccinations (rarely)
- campylobacter infection (most common)
Guillain-Barre immobilization can occur without an identifiable trigger.
A treatment that cures muscle weakness paralysis is not available. But there are two types of treatments that reduces severity and speeds recovery of Guillain Barre syndrome:
- plasmapheresis ~ “blood cleansing” in which damaging antibodies are removed
- intravenous immunoglobulin ~ injection of healthy antibodies that block damaging antibodies
Miller Fisher syndrome is considered a variation of Guillain-Barré syndrome and is similarly treated.