Guillain-Barré Syndrome

What is Guillain – Barré Syndrome?

Guillain – Barré Syndrome (“GBS”), also known as Acute Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyradiculoneuropathy, is a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the protective myelin sheath directly covering peripheral nerves. GBS can rapidly spread throughout an individual, and quickly damage the peripheral nervous system by preventing transmission or nerve signals to muscles resulting in muscle weakness, pain, and tingling in the feet and hands. GBS typically spreads quickly throughout the body starting in the feet and ascends to the upper body and arms. In severe cases, it can result in paralysis and the ability to breathe.  Unlike many other disorders, GBS affects both sides of the body. Although there is no known cure for GBS there are a number of treatments available that can help ease symptoms and reduce the length of time the condition impacts an individual. In fact, most people recover completely from GBS, though some may experience lasting impacts, such as weakness, numbness, or fatigue. Although GBS can affect all age groups, there is slightly greater risk for young men.

What causes Guillain Barre Syndrome?

The exact cause of GBS is unknown, though researchers have identified that the core mechanisms involve autoimmune disorders that cause the body’s immune system to mistakenly begins to attack the peripheral nerves, which leads to damage to their myelin. This can typically be triggered as a result of infection, or less commonly through surgery or vaccine injury.

What are the symptoms of Guillain Barre Syndrome?

Most affected by GBS typically the first experience a tingling sensation and weakness that begins in the individual’s feet and legs. This can quickly spread to the upper body and through the arms. Roughly half of the individuals affected by GBS will experience symptoms beginning in the arms or face. As the disorder progresses, an individual may begin to experience muscle weakness that leads to paralysis.

Additional symptoms of Guillain Barre syndrome include:

  • Pins and needles like sensation in fingers, toes, ankles, or wrists
  • Weakness in legs that spreads throughout the body
  • Inability to walk or climb stairs, general difficulty in walking
  • Loss of facial muscle control, including eye movements, speaking, chewing, or difficulty swallowing
  • Severe aches or cramp-like pains
  • Loss of bladder control or bowel functions
  • Increasingly rapid heart rate
  • Abnormal blood pressure
  • Difficulty breathing

Most affected by GBS experience the full extent of their symptoms within two to four weeks after symptoms begin to show. As the disorder can spread rapidly, it is highly recommended to immediately seek medical attention upon feeling any of the above symptoms, especially if you are experiencing tingling that begins in your feet and moves up the body, or tingling that is rapidly spreading throughout the body or difficulty breathing when lying flat, or choking on saliva. GBS is a very serious condition that can require hospitalization and in some cases ventilator support.

How is Guillain Barre Syndrome diagnosed?

GBS can be pretty tough to diagnose. It presents similar symptoms to other disorders that can affect the nervous system, including botulism, meningitis, or heavy metal poisoning as a result of exposure to lead, mercury, or arsenic. When speaking to your doctor, be sure to provide specific symptoms and as much medical history as possible – particularly if you’re experiencing unusual symptoms or if you’ve had any recent infections or illnesses. Once you’ve provided your medical history, your doctor will likely pursue the following tests to diagnose GBS:

Spinal Tap:  When a spinal tap is performed, a small amount of fluid is taken from the spinal canal in your lower back. This fluid is then tested to identify if there are higher than normal levels of protein within the cerebrospinal fluid. This test may also be referred to as a lumbar puncture.

Electromyography: When an electromyography test is conducted, thin-needle electrodes are inserted into the muscles that your doctor wants to study. Essentially, this is a nerve function test, during which the needles read electrical activity from the muscles, which can help inform doctors as to whether or not your muscle weakness is caused by nerve damage or muscle damage.

Nerve Conduction tests: A doctor may also use a nerve conduction study to identify how well your nerves and muscles respond to small electrical pulses. This is similar to an electromyography test, though in this instance the electrodes are simply taped to the skin above the nerve and small electric shocks are passed through. The idea is to measure the actual speed of the nerve signals.

How is Guillain Barre Syndrome treated?

Unfortunately, there is no current cure for GBS; however, there are two available treatments that can help to reduce the severity of the illness and possibly speed up recovery. The biggest concern is that for some individuals GBS can rapidly lead to full-body paralysis, and can even be life-threatening if the aforementioned paralysis begins to affect the diaphragm or chest muscles, which can hinder proper breathing. Because of this, treatment is focused primarily on reducing the severity of the immune attack, and to support your core body functions — like breathing — while the nervous system recovers from the disorder. Below are the two primary treatments that individuals may receive once GBS has been confirmed.

Intravenous Immunoglobulin: By utilizing immunoglobulin with healthy antibodies from healthy blood donors, the damaging antibodies that may contribute to GBS can likely be blocked.

Plasma Exchange (Plasmapheresis): Plasmapheresis is intended to remove the antibodies that are attacking the nerves from your blood. In this procedure, your blood is removed from your body by way of a machine, which then removes the antibodies from your blood, and returns it back to the body.

Both treatments are effective for treating Guillain-Barre syndrome, so it’s important to speak to your doctor so a treatment plan is developed that works best for you and your body. In addition to receiving either of the above treatments, it’s not unlikely that you will also receive medication to relieve pain, which can be quite severe, as well as to prevent blood clots, which can develop through immobility. Individuals recovering from Guillain-Barre syndrome may also need physical help and physical therapy as their muscles return. This can include care to help increase movement of the limbs to help keep muscles strong and flexible, as well as physical therapy during recovery to help regain strength and ensure proper movement is redeveloped. Finally, someone in recovery from GBS may also utilize adaptive devices, such as wheelchairs or braces to assist with mobility and general self-care skills.

Despite having treatment available, it can take months or even years to recover from GBS. Most individuals affected with GBS experience a rough timeline as what follows:

  1. Following the first signs and symptoms, the condition rapidly advances over two weeks or so.
  2. The symptoms experienced will reach a peak roughly within four weeks of symptom onset.
  3. Recovery then takes roughly six months to a year, though some individuals may be affected for as long three years after symptom onset.
  4. While most individuals completely recover some do not.

Please note; children, who rarely develop GBS, generally recover more quickly and more completely than adults typically do.

Guillain Barre Syndrome compensation

Although the exact cause of GBS is not entirely clear, in rare instances individuals may develop the disorder as a result of receiving a vaccination. In particular, researchers have noted that GBS is most closely associated with the influenza vaccine than any other, though individuals still may develop GBS from any of the following vaccines:

Vaccines that Can Trigger Guillain Barre Syndrome:

  • Influenza Vaccine
  • Hepatitis A or Hepatitis B Vaccines
  • Gardasil or HPV Vaccine
  • Tetanus, Tdap, or DTaP Vaccines
  • Menactra Vaccine
  • Other common Vaccines

Despite the possibility that other vaccines may lead to GBS in an individual, it is worth noting that the CDC states that you are much more likely to develop GBS from the flu virus itself than you are from the vaccine.

According to the Vaccine Injury Table, individuals that develop GBS from a vaccine will typically begin to see their symptoms start to manifest within 3-40 days following the vaccination. If this is the case for you, you may still be able to file a successful claim with the National Vaccine Injury Compensation program.

If you believe that you may have developed GBS from a vaccine it is highly recommended that you contact a lawyer who is experienced in representing patients in front of the United States Court of Federal Claims, as filing a vaccine injury claim is a very complex process. Fortunately, there are no legal costs for patients that develop GBS from a vaccine. At the end of your case, our law firm will be reimbursed by the court for the fees and costs incurred in representing you, which is entirely separate from the reimbursement that you may be awarded by the court for your vaccine injury.

File a Guillain Barre Syndrome-related claim today

Contact us today for any questions about compensation from Guillain Barre Syndrome, or to discuss the next steps concerning your claim.