Guillain-Barré syndrome is an acute inflammatory polyradiculoneuropathy, which is an inflammation of several nerves that occurs suddenly and transiently. It is an autoimmune disease, meaning that it is due to an attack of these nerves by antibodies specific to the organization. These auto-antibodies are responsible for the destruction of myelin, a substance located around axons, the long extensions of the nerves that allow the propagation of nerve impulses. The disease often follows a viral infection that occured in the two weeks preceding the onset of symptoms.
Guillain-Barré syndrome appears suddenly in the form of motor or sensory deficits affecting both sides of the body symmetrically and in different places. Most of the time, the disorder is initially dominant in the legs, and gives the impression of gradually ascending to the upper body. Conventionally, Guillain-Barré syndrome evolves in three stages:
- a stage where the problems spread over a few weeks, often from the bottom upwards: this is the expansion phase;
- a stage where the symptoms are stable: the plateau phase;
- a stage where the symptoms slowly resolve themselves: the recovery phase.
The total duration of the disease spans several months. The severity of the disease depends on the location of certain damage that can be severe, including respiratory problems that cause eating disorders. Some forms of Guillain-Barré syndrome evolve without leaving any traces while others will persist.
For the diagnosis of Guillain-Barré syndrome, the doctor will ask the patient about his medical history as well as his recent health. He will then proceed with a clinical examination to assess the intensity and location of neurological disorders. Some tests are commonly used:
- electromyography to test muscle response to nerve impulses, or spontaneous activity;
- a lumbar puncture, a sampling of cerebrospinal fluid of the spinal cord.
Guillain-Barré syndrome should be treated quickly. Depending on the degree of the progression, the patient may be treated with:
- injections of immunoglobulins;
- plasmapheresis, a technique used to modify the components of the blood plasma.
In more severe cases, patients are intubated or fed by gastric tube to avoid serious troubles with breathing or swallowing. Once the condition of the patient improves, physical therapy is prescribed for a better recovery.