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Common Diseases > GUILLAIN BARRE SYNDROME
( Acute idiopathic polyneuritis )

What is Guillain Barre Syndrome?  (GBS)
Guillain Barre Syndrome, is an inflammatory disorder of the peripheral nerves, those outside the brain and the spinal cord. It is characterised by the rapid onset of weakness and often paralysis the legs, arms, breathing muscles and face. Abnormal sensations often accompany the weakness.

Many patients require an intensive care unit during the early course of their illness, especially if support of breathing with a machine is required. Although most people recover, this can take months, and some may have long term disabilities of varying degrees. Less than 5 percent die. GBS can develop in any person at any age, regardless of gender or ethnic background.

How is GBS diagnosed?
Quite often the patient’s symptoms and physical exam are sufficient to indicate the diagnosis. The rapid onset of (ascending) weakness, frequently accompanied by abnormal sensations, and affecting both sides of the body similarly, is a common presenting picture. Loss of reflexes, such as knee jerk, are usually found. To confirm the diagnosis, a lumbar puncture to find elevated fluid protein and electrical tests of nerve and muscle function may be performed.

How is GBS treated?
Because progression of the illness in its early stages is unpredictable, most newly diagnosed patients are hospitalised, and usually placed in an intensive care unit to monitor breathing and other body functions.

Care involves use of general supportive measures for the paralysed patient, and also methods specifically designed to speed recovery, especially for those patient with major problems, such as the inability to walk. Treatments aimed at shortening the illness have included plasmapheresis or plasma exchange, high dose immune globulins and corticosteroids. Most patients after their early hospital stay and when medically stable, are candidates for a rehabilitation program to help learn optimal use of muscles as nerve supply returns.

What causes GBS?
The cause is not known. Perhaps 50% of cases occur after a viral infection such as a sore throat or diarrhoea. Many cases developed in people who received the 1976 swine flu vaccine. Some theories suggest an auto-immune mechanism, in which the patients defence system of antibodies and white blood cells are triggered into damaging the nerve covering or insulation, leading to weakness and abnormal sensations.

The above information has been made available through ‘The Guillain Barre Syndrome Foundation International’ who have set up support chapters around the would to help the GBS patient and family. The Foundation website has closed without notice>
The New Zealand support Group has contact with over 270 current or former sufferers of GBS and/or their families. We put out a news letter every quarter, with news about GBS, helpful hints, personal encounters and some other bits and pieces.

Contact in New Zealand, either:-
Terry Watton,
Ph. 07 862 6438, Fax 07 862 6437 28
Thames Rd
Paeroa
E-mail paeroagardencentre@xtra.co.nz
or
Jenny Murray,
Ph./Fax  06 751 1014
27 Grenville St.
New Plymouth




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