Ed Nyman October 2008
Guillain-Barre is considered a rare syndrome that causes progressive muscle weakness and paralysis. It develops over a few days or up to about four weeks and lasts several weeks or even months. As a temporary inflammation of the nerves, it often follows recovery from a viral infection such as a cold or gastrointestinal infection. In some cases it is seen after immunization for flu. It causes the immune system to attack the peripheral nervous system. The syndrome is an inflammation of the covering of the nerves, the myelin, the surrounds nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord. Also, the elongated portion of the nerve cell, the axon, can be damaged. The axon conveys electrical signals to distant areas of the muscles and from one nerve cell to another. This damage and inflammation cause muscle weakness, loss of sensation and paralysis because the nerves cannot transmit the required signals to the muscles. The individual can become dysautonomic, meaning he or she becomes unable to feel heat, cold, and pain. Approximately 95% of people who develop the syndrome recover, most of these, fully.
There are three main courses of treatment for Guillain-Barre. One treatment is to let the syndrome run its course, since it normally is a temporary condition. Another treatment that is used is known as plasmaphoresis, or plasma exchange. Antibody laden blood plasma, which is the liquid portion of blood, is removed from the body. Red blood cells are separated and put back into the body with antibody free plasma. This treatment lessens the symptoms and hastens recovery time. A third treatment is the administration of intravenous immune globulin which also lessens the symptoms and hastens recovery time. Sometimes both of these last two are administered to the patient. Physical therapy and exercise is also usually part of the regime to full recovery.
I had an opportunity to talk with Ed Nyman who got and recovered from the syndrome in April 2008. And this show focuses on his experience.