Imagine for a second with me, you’re a small child, barely three years old and your mom calls you into the kitchen for breakfast; only there’s one small problem, you can’t move your legs and it feels as though thousands of little needles are stabbing into them. This situation was a reality for me when I was I two years old as I was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is a life threatening neurological disease that rapidly causes symmetrical breakdown of the extremities. It can lead to autonomic dysfunctions and respiratory insufficiencies.
-What is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?
Although the true cause for what triggers Guillain-Barre Syndrome isn’t yet known, it’s believed to be triggered after the patient has a respiratory or digestive tract infection. Rarely Guillain-Barre can be triggered by surgeries or vaccinations; the most common vaccinations include the influenza vaccine or the newer meningitis vaccines. When Guillain-Barre is triggered the immune system begins attacking the nerves in the extremities working towards the trunk of the body leading to partial or full paralysis in the extremities. “Clinically, motor weakness and sensory loss begin in the lower extremities and progressively ascend to the upper extremities, with cranial neuropathy and autonomic symptoms often combined.” Says German researchers Faruk Incecik, Sakir Altunbasak, and M. Ozlem Herguner According to the Mayo Clinic, “Acute Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyradiculoneuropathy (AIDP), is the most common version of Guillain-Barre Syndrome here in the U.S”. AIDP causes the immune system to start attacking the myelin sheathes of the body’s nerves but it begins in the lower extremities and works up the body toward the trunk. The damage done to the myelin sheathes can prevent the nerves from transmitting properly to the brain causing temporary or sometimes permanent damage to the body. Some of the common causes linked to triggering Guillain-Barre Syndrome include infection from undercooked poultry, influenza, surgery, and rarely the influenza vaccine or other childhood vaccines. Guillain-Barre is so rare in children that guillainbarresyndrome.net states that “Guillain Barre Syndrome has been reported to range from 0.5-1.6 in 100,000 children and adolescent.” And “Guillain Barre Syndrome affects approximately 16% of children after triggering fatal symptoms like respiratory failure that constantly need mechanical ventilator support.” According to Turkish scientists H. Tekgul, G. Serdaroglu, and S. Tutuncuoglu, “[Guillain –Barre Syndrome] is seen in boys 1.5- to 2.7-fold than in girls.” The reason for this gender difference is currently unknown.
-What are the symptoms of Guillain-Barre?
During the onset of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, the key symptoms to look for are tingling or numbness in the extremities eventually leading to pain similar to thousands of small needles stabbing your extremities all at the same time. Difficulty breathing can occur due to the immune system fighting the muscles that control regular breathing, this is the leading cause of death in Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients if not caught in time. “Respiratory Distress Syndrome and heart attack can occur” according to the Mayo Clinic if the early symptoms are aggressive enough. The other more common symptoms other than pain are blood clots and bowel function problems. Blood clots arise due to the lack of movement attributed to both the pain and the partial paralysis from Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Until a patient can walk freely on their own to get the blood pumping again, it can be incredibly dangerous. Slow bowel function and urine retention are common as the nerves around the digestive tract start to get attacked by the immune system. According to Bianca van den Berg, Christa Walgaard, Judith Drenthen, Christiaan Fokke, Bart C. Jacobs and Pieter A. van Doorn of nature.com;