What is Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

What is GBS?

Guillain-Barré Syndrome, commonly referred to as GBS, is an autoimmune disorder in which the body's immune system attacks its own peripheral nervous system. GBS is characterized by weakness and unusual sensations in the hands and feet which can then progress to the arms, legs, and the rest of the body over the course of days or weeks.

Cases of GBS have a wide range of severity. Some instances of the disease have been known to render muscles and entire limbs useless, temporarily or permanently. In others, the body's most primary functions are jeopardized. The prognosis for GBS is generally good, however, as most make a full or nearly full recovery with the possibility of some residual weakness.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome affects an estimated 1 in 100,000 people, divided evenly between men and women of all ages. Symptoms have been reported to follow surgery, certain viral infections or contact with viruses, as well as some vaccines - such as the flu shot, the tetanus shot or any of its components, or the HPV vaccine.

What are the Symptoms of GBS?

Guillain-Barré Syndrome is known as a demyelinating disease. Specifically, it is a disease in which the immune system attacks the myelin sheath, a white coating which covers the peripheral nerves and facilitates the transmission of nerve signals to muscles.

When this protective coating is damaged, nerve signals to the muscles become weakened and confused, and the nerve endings are left vulnerable to permanent damage. This causes varying degrees of weakness and even immobility and paralysis. Signals from the body to the brain also suffer, which creates a "static", "crawling", or "pins-and-needles" effect, as well as numbness. These symptoms often begin in the extremities and then progress inward. If the syndrome becomes more advanced, it can severy interfere with blood pressure, motor function, and breathing, and can be fatal in such cases.

How is GBS Treated?

While there is no direct blood test for Guillain-Barré Syndrome, other tests help to ascertain a diagnosis. After compiling a comprehensive list of symptoms, reflexes may be tested. If such reflexes are found to be lacking or lost, as is the case in GBS patients, a nerve conduction test may be issued. The cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) may also be tested for elevated protein levels, which are characteristic of this syndrome.

If a positive diagnosis is made, treatment may follow a course similar to Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP), which is widely considered to be the chronic counterpart to GBS. Immunoglobulin therapy may be prescribed, in which a large amount of naturally-occurring proteins are administered to the patient in an effort to diminish the injurious immune response.

Plasma exchange is another option. With plasma exchange, blood is taken from the patient and introduced to a centrifuge in which it is spun to separate red blood cells from the blood plasma. The red blood cells are then reintroduced to the patient's bloodstream and the patient's own body then produces new, healthy plasma.

Physical therapy is required to restore or improve limb function and sensitivity, and may be recommended along with corticosteroids, although the latter is being phased out of treatment. In almost every instance of GBS, lengthy hospital stays are required sometimes up to months, becoming incredibly expensive for the afflicted.

What is the Prognosis for GBS?

Guillain-Barré Syndrome is defined by a rapid onset. Symptoms are at their most severe during their first few weeks and can last anywhere from months to years following their onset. Some experience continued distress after several years, but the majority of patients recover fully in under three. GBS is fatal to less than five percent of patients. A small percent of patients reported a relapse or recurrence of GBS symptoms after subsequent surgeries and vaccinations.

GBS and Vaccination

Guillain-Barré Syndrome occurs as an immune response only after a virus or bacteria invades the body, and vaccines work by administering an acellular or otherwise weakened version of a virus - it thus follows that GBS is a possibility with any similar immunization.

The flu shot is the most commonly administered vaccine in the United States, with about 130 million shots given each year, and is responsible for most cases of GBS reported following a vaccination. That said, there is data that suggests contracting influenza may put one at greater risk of GBS symptoms than getting the flu shot. It is important for you to weigh the risks and speak with a healthcare professional when deciding whether or not to vaccinate - but, due to increasing legislation against religious and philosophical exemptions from vaccinations, consumers may not have a choice in the matter for much longer.

Other vaccines linked to GBS include, but are not limited to:

  • Gardasil® and HPV vaccines
  • DTaP, TDaP or other tetanus shot permutations
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Meningococcal vaccines
  • Measels, Mumps Rubella
What About Compensation?

If you believe that you or a loved one have incurred GBS as a result of a vaccination, you should proceed with an experienced vaccine injury attorney who actively practices in vaccine court every day. There is a strict three (3) year statute of limitations for you to file a claim for compensation in vaccine court, or two (2) years from the date of death, so call a vaccine injury attorney as soon as possible to secure your claim. One must also obtain any medical records relating to the vaccine, including proof of immunization and any follow-ups or hospital visits, as these will be necessary to prove your case. Because vaccine injury claims are handled on the federal level, you may never have to appear in court, and all lawyer's fees are reimbursed by the government if the claim is valid.

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