Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the nervous system. The initial symptoms tend to be tingling and feelings of weakness in the extremities. It is common for the weakness to spread throughout the body, eventually leading to total paralysis. While scientists have not yet found the cause of the condition, more than half of all patients report that they have an infection within six weeks of developing their first symptoms.
Although there is no cure for Guillain-Barre syndrome, there are some ways to treat it. Guillain-Barre syndrome treatments almost always include a trip to the hospital. After all, the most severe form of the condition is a medical emergency. Hospital treatment improves the patient's condition. Afterward, they often face natural remedies, including physical therapy for Guillain-Barre syndrome.
When the disease has not progressed yet, doctors can have a hard time diagnosing the cause of tingling and weakness. Typically, a physical exam will be done first. An electromyography test might be recommended after the doctor examines a patient's medical history. These tests, which are more commonly known as EMGs, are done to diagnose conditions that affect the muscles and nerves. They give doctors a more in-depth view of the strength of muscle and nerve connections. This helps doctors determine if the root cause of an issue is in the muscles or the nervous system.
Electromyography tests measure the activity of motor neurons, which are the nerves that cause muscle contractions. The electrodes on the machine turn the electric pulses into graphs or sounds. A specialist will look at the graph and interpret it. While this procedure is being done, needles are inserted into the muscle being examined. The electrode in the needle records all electrical activity happening. This test will also involve a nerve conduction study, which occurs when electrodes are placed against the skin.
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A lumbar puncture, otherwise known as a spinal tap, is a medical procedure that involves removing a small sample of spinal fluid from the lower back. This invasive procedure is performed on an outpatient basis. The spine and brain are surrounded by cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). When a lumbar puncture is done, the doctor will insert a hollow needle through the patient's skin and into the lower back. This needle is guided between the patient's vertebrae until it reaches their spinal canal.
The spinal fluid that is removed can then be tested to detect any changes. Certain changes commonly occur in the spinal fluid of Guillain-Barre syndrome patients. The doctor may also test for other nerve-related disorders to rule them out. There are other reasons a lumbar puncture is one. One is so that the spinal fluid pressure can be measured to make sure that hydrocephalus has not occurred. Another is to numb the spine with an anesthetic.
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Immunoglobulin therapy may be used to help manage the symptoms of this condition. During this treatment, donated blood is given to patients intravenously. The donated blood has healthy antibodies, rather than the antibodies attacking the nerves. If a patient is given a high enough dose of immunoglobulin, the healthy antibodies may block the actions of the damaging ones. This helps reduce the symptoms, although it is not a cure.
Sometimes the treatment is done subcutaneously instead of intravenously. With subcutaneous therapy, a needle delivers the immunoglobulin to the tissues below the skin. It then enters the blood much slower and circulates over several days. This type of treatment is not often used for Guillain-Barre syndrome patients, since the symptoms are severe and require immediate intervention. Intravenous therapy tends to be done in the hospital, while some subcutaneous therapy can be done at home.
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Plasmapheresis, otherwise known as plasma exchange, is a treatment in which blood plasma is separated from blood cells. The cells are the solid part of the blood, while plasma is the liquid. After this treatment, the blood cells are placed back inside the body. The body then creates more plasma to compensate for the plasma that was removed. The harmful antibodies tend to be in the plasma, so doctors may prevent the patient's body from continuing to attack their nerves by removing the tainted plasma.
The procedure can often help slow the disease's progression or reduce symptoms until the illness runs its course. Both immunoglobulin therapy and plasmapheresis are equally effective in treating this condition. It is also not any more effective to mix the two than only using one or the other. During plasmapheresis, the plasma will typically be replaced with albumin or saline. This solution is mixed with the blood cells and then reintroduced to the patient's body.
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The majority of individuals recover from Guillain-Barre syndrome. Eventually, it runs its course, and patients regain control of their body again. However, the paralysis and pain linked to it have a significant impact. Physical therapy is used both during the course of the illness and the recovery process. Before recovering from the disease, a patient's caregivers may move their legs and arms to ensure that their muscles are kept strong and flexible.
As patients begin to recover, they will go to physical therapy. This will involve exercises to strengthen their muscles and build up their endurance, since the muscles tend to weaken due to paralysis. Physical therapy also helps individuals cope with ongoing fatigue. An occupational therapist may teach patients how to use adaptive devices like braces or a wheelchair for those with ongoing nerve issues.