Guillain–Barré syndrome is an acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, a medical condition that affects the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system plays a very important function in human body as it connects the central nervous system to the limbs and organs. In Guillain–Barré syndrome, the acute inflammatory demyelization manifests in ascending paralysis where the weakening of the muscles begins in the feet and hands, and slowly spreads to the center of the body, affecting the trunk. This is a rare condition that affects about 1 or 2 people in 100,000 individuals. It is one of the leading causes of non-trauma-related paralysis, and it can often cause severe, even life-threatening complications.
Signs and symptoms of acute Guillain–Barré syndrome
As already mentioned, Guillain–Barré syndrome starts with weakness in the lower limbs. The weakness appears symmetrically and rapidly spreads to the center of the body. Patients may complain about weakness in the legs, and numbness or tingling in the lower limbs. With the progress of the disease, facial muscles and arms are also affected. Sometimes, this progress is so rapid that it happens in just a couple of hours or days. When the cranial nerves, which emerge directly from the brain, become affected patients will experience drooling, difficulty swallowing and various respiratory difficulties. At this stage, patients will probably need to be hospitalized and some of them may even require ventilator assistance. In severe cases bladder dysfunction may occur, as well as fluctuations in blood pressure, low blood pressure, and cardiac arrhythmias.
Causes of acute Guillain–Barré syndrome
The most common form of Guillain–Barré syndrome is the acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy. This condition is caused by auto-immune response to foreign antigens. The Guillain–Barré syndrome is usually triggered by an acute infection when the immune system mistakes the body’s nerve tissues instead of the infectious agent. In most of the cases, the exact cause is unknown, but very often the triggering pathogen is the bacterium Campylobacter jejuni. There is even some evidence that influenza vaccines may raise the incidence of Guillain–Barré syndrome. However, this evidence is vague. When the body starts to attack peripheral nerves, instead of the pathogen, it creates damage to the myelin. Myelin is the fatty layer that surrounds the nerve and protects it. In a process of demyelization, which is irreversible, nerve damage obstructs the normal functioning of the nervous system. The final result can lead from any kind of problem in communication between the brain and the body, affecting speech, balance, motion, and cognitive awareness.