Guillain Barré Syndrome (GBS)
It is a rare but serious autoimmune disease which can affect any part of the nervous system outside of the spinal cord and brain.
GBS causes the destruction, removal, or loss of the myelin sheath of a nerve. Myelin is the substance of the cell membrane which coils to form the myelin sheath.
It mainly affects the hands, feet, hands, and limbs, leading to problems, like – weakness, numbness, and pain. It can also lead to paralysis but is typically temporary.
The syndrome affects approximately 1 in 100,000 people in the US. It can happen to anyone, however, it is most frequent in people 50 years old or older.
- weakness and pain, usually starting in the lower part of the body and moving upwards;
- tingling sensations starting in the neck or face. The weakness gradually gets worse and becomes paralysis;
- lack of control over the bladder or bowel;
- blood clots;
- general instability when walking;
- difficulty breathing;
- less control over facial muscles during chewing or talking;
- cognitive and psychological difficulties;
- pressure sores, especially if a patient is immobile for a length of time;
- high or low blood pressure;
- a faster heart rate than normal;
- severe nerve pain;
- cramp-like pain which gets worse at night.
But, other events, like – dengue fever (a mosquito-borne tropical disease caused by the dengue virus), pregnancy, insect bites, surgical procedures, and Bell’s palsy (a form of temporary facial paralysis) have also been shown to cause the syndrome.
Campylobacter jejuni infection has also been associated with GBS. Campylobacter is one of the most common bacterial causes of diarrhea in the US.
Diagnosis relies on numerous tests, including:
- spinal tap – your healthcare professional will insert a needle into the lower back and remove a small amount of spinal fluid;
- nerve conduction velocity tests;
- reflex tests, like – the knee-jerk reaction;
- muscle strength tests;
- physical examination.
There is no known cure for this syndrome. However, treatments can help improve symptoms and shorten their duration. The main treatments include:
Immune globulin (a solution containing many different antibodies collected from a group of donors), given early and intravenously for 5 days, is the main treatment of choice.
Treatments to reduce symptoms and support body functions, like – a feeding tube and/or a machine to help with breathing. Additionally, steroid hormones have been tried as a method to reduce the symptoms of GBS.
Plasma exchange (plasmapheresis) – a machine is used to filter the blood to remove the harmful substances which are attacking the nerves.
Note – some sufferers do not recover completely and have residual numbness, weakness, and occasional pain.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
It is an autoimmune inflammatory disease which attacks myelinated axons in the spinal cord (central nervous system) and brain, destroying and damaging the myelin and/or the axons.
MS commonly affects individuals between the ages of 20 and 50 years, and the average age of onset is around 34 years. Women are more than 100 percent as likely to develop the condition as men.
An estimated 400,000 people in the US have multiple sclerosis, plus, over 10,000 new patients are diagnosed every year. There is a higher incidence in the northern United States, northern Europe, New Zealand, and southern Australia than in other areas of the world.
There are four types of multiple sclerosis:
- Clinically isolated syndrome
- Secondary progressive multiple sclerosis
- Relapse-remitting multiple sclerosis
- Primary progressive multiple sclerosis.
Patients with the condition tend to have their first symptoms between the ages of 20 and 40. They may include:
- problems with bladder and bowel function;
- weakness or numbness in one or more limbs which usually happens on one side of the body at a time;
- complete or partial loss of vision, typically in one eye at a time;
- slurred speech;
- lack of coordination or unsteady gait;
- electric-shock sensations which occur with certain neck movements;
- pain in specific parts of the body;
- prolonged double vision.
In this condition, the immune system attacks the myelin sheath which usually protects nerve fibers in the spinal cord, brain, and optic nerve.
A neurologist will perform a few tests, including:
- spinal tap – a test involving a long needle which is inserted into the spine to remove a sample of fluid;
- magnetic resonance imaging – a technique which uses radio waves and a magnetic field to create cross-sectional images of the spinal cord and brain;
- eye exam;
- neurological exam.
Treatment options include:
- dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera);
- glatiramer acetate (Copaxone);
- interferon injections (Rebif);
- IV steroids.
Guillain Barré Syndrome vs MS (Multiple Sclerosis) – Differences
Guillain-Barré syndrome and multiple sclerosis are both diseases of the nervous system. They start when the immune system attacks and damages myelin. However, GBS damages the peripheral nervous system and multiple sclerosis damages the central nervous system.