Health Wise
July 26, 2016
Guillian-Barre’ syndrome

Apart from microcephaly, Guillain-Barré Syndrome is another complication of the Zika virus. It is a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves. Weakness and tingling in the extremities are usually the first symptoms.{{more}}

These sensations can quickly spread, eventually paralyzing the entire body. In its most severe form, Guillain-Barré syndrome is a medical emergency and so patients must be hospitalized in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in order to receive specialized treatment.

Other than the link to the Zika virus, the exact cause of Guillain-Barré syndrome is unknown. But it is often preceded by an infectious illness, such as a respiratory infection or the stomach flu.

There’s no known cure for Guillain-Barré syndrome, but several treatments can ease symptoms and reduce the duration of the illness. Most people recover from Guillain-Barré syndrome, though some may experience lingering effects from it, such as weakness, numbness or fatigue.

Guillain-Barré syndrome can affect all age groups, but the risk is greater among men and older adults.

Guillain-Barré syndrome affects the nerves. Because nerves control the body’s movements and functions, people with Guillain-Barré may experience: breathing difficulties, residual numbness or other sensations, heart and blood pressure problems, pain, bowel and bladder function problems and blood clots.

Guillain-Barré syndrome can be difficult to diagnose in its earliest stages. Its signs and symptoms are similar to those of other neurological disorders and may vary from person to person.

There is no cure for Guillain-Barré syndrome, but two types of treatments can speed recovery and reduce the severity of the illness: plasma exchange (plasmapheresis) and immunoglobulin therapy.

Although some people can take months and even years to recover, most people with Guillain-Barré syndrome experience this general timeline: after the first signs and symptoms, the condition tends to progressively worsen for about two weeks. Symptoms then reach a plateau within four weeks. Recovery begins, usually lasting six to 12 months, though for some people, it could take as long as three years.

Among adults recovering from Guillain-Barré syndrome, about 80 per cent can walk independently six months after diagnosis; about 60 per cent fully recover motor strength one year after diagnosis and about five to 10 per cent have very delayed and incomplete recovery. Children, who rarely develop Guillain-Barré syndrome, generally recover more completely than adults.

Dr Rosmond Adams is a medical doctor and a public health specialist.

He may be emailed at