Guillain-Barre Syndrome - Symptoms

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What is Guillain-Barré syndrome?

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a disorder in which the body's immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. The first symptoms of this disorder include varying degrees of weakness or tingling sensations in the legs. In many instances the weakness and abnormal sensations spread to the arms and upper body. These symptoms can increase in intensity until certain muscles cannot be used at all and, when severe, the patient is almost totally paralyzed. In these cases the disorder is life threatening - potentially interfering with breathing and, at times, with blood pressure or heart rate - and is considered a medical emergency. Such a patient is often put on a respirator to assist with breathing and is watched closely for problems such as an abnormal heart beat, infections, blood clots, and high or low blood pressure. Most patients, however, recover from even the most severe cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, although some continue to have a certain degree of weakness.

Guillain-Barré syndrome can affect anybody. It can strike at any age and both sexes are equally prone to the disorder. The syndrome is rare, however, afflicting only about one person in 100,000. Usually Guillain-Barré occurs a few days or weeks after the patient has had symptoms of a respiratory or gastrointestinal viral infection. Occasionally surgery or vaccinations will trigger the syndrome.

After the first clinical manifestations of the disease, the symptoms can progress over the course of hours, days, or weeks. Most people reach the stage of greatest weakness within the first 2 weeks after symptoms appear, and by the third week of the illness 90 percent of all patients are at their weakest.

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Comment from: stokkecity, 45-54 Male (Patient) Published: May 30

I am currently recovering from Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS). I"m a very healthy cyclist and fitness enthusiast who was convinced to take a flu shot in February of 2014. My first symptoms were a slight tingling in my fingertips and toes on March 8th, and by the end of the month, I could no longer stand up and bear weight on my legs. I spent 2 weeks in the hospital receiving plasmapheresis, and left the hospital in early April feeling strong. After three weeks, I had a relapse which landed me back in the hospital for two nights and a schedule of 6 out-patient IVIG treatments. It"s now nearly June of 2014. My walking is good, but my hand and arm strength is weak. I haven"t been able to work out or cycle yet, and recovery is very slow. My GBS never ascended higher than my thighs, and for that I am grateful. Feet and hands are still tingly and stiff, however. This is a very odd and frustrating condition for an active 52 year old. But, I am resolved to recover 100%. Currently taking no prescription medication but, wish there was something to relieve the tingle and buzzing. Fight on!

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Comment from: Ruthann, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: June 02

In October of 2012 I woke up in the middle of the night with feet and hands that were numb and hurt at the same time. I could not walk. Thinking that I may be having a stroke, we went to the emergency room. One of the first questions I was asked was if I had had a flu shot. My answer was yes. Within a few days and after several tests I was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS). By that time I could not talk, or swallow, or breathe on my own. I was in the ICU for 3 weeks, on a ventilator, and feeding tube. I slowly began to recover. The left side of my face also was paralyzed. I spent 3 months in the hospital. I needed to learn how to swallow again, and eventually how to walk. It has been 19 months since I first became ill, I am able to get around with a cane or walker, extreme fatigue is part of every day, and numb tingling painful feet are what I am still experiencing. I am grateful for the amount of recovery that I have had, because I was not expected to live.

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