Guillain-Barre Syndrome: Early Diagnosis May Lower Fatality Rate


Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rather uncommon disorder that is characterized by numbness or weakness in the lower extremities, and without treatment, quickly leads to full body paralysis and death. The symptoms of this disorder are rather specific and with early diagnosis and treatment, the recovery rate is quite high.

What Causes Guillain-Barre?

The exact cause of this disorder is not known. It is very uncommon and usually appears after a bout with the stomach flu or respiratory infection. Approximately 60% of people diagnosed with this disorder have recently had an infection in their digestive tract or lungs. Affecting only one or two people out of every 100,000, this disorder requires hospitalization. There is no cure, but with early diagnosis and care, most people will fully recover.

What Are the Symptoms?

The primary symptom of this disorder is tingling and weakness in your hands and feet. The “pins and needles” feeling can progress up the extremities. While most people experience the most weakness and tingling within three weeks after the onset of symptoms, there are some severe cases where total paralysis can occur within a few hours.

Other symptoms include an unsteady walk, extreme lower back pain, inadequate bladder and bowel control, low blood pressure and heart rate, and difficulty breathing. These symptoms may appear over time or within hours.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Early diagnosis of Guillain-Barre Syndrome is critical in reducing the fatality rate. While it can be difficult to diagnose this condition in its early stages, the most common tests include a lumbar puncture, which is more commonly known as a spinal tap. Electromyography and other nerve tests can be used to determine how severe the weakness and tingling is and if it is progressing.

Treatment is usually completed in one of two ways. The first is plasmapheresis and the second is intravenous immunoglobulin. Plasmapheresis is the process of removing and replacing the plasma in the blood that contains the damaged antibodies. Intravenous immunoglobulin adds healthy antibodies from blood donors to decrease the symptoms and effects of the disorder. Both treatments are equally effective.


Recovery from this disorder can take several years in the most severe cases; however, most people are fully recovered within a year with proper treatment. The key is not to wait to see your doctor if you experience any of the above symptoms, so that treatment may be started as soon as possible.


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