Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome: A Commonly Overlooked Vaccine Injury

Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome: A Commonly Overlooked Vaccine Injury

  • Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome (GBS) is a neuromuscular disease that damages peripheral nerves.
  • GBS can develop following a viral infection or vaccination.
  • There is no cure for GBS, but treatments are available to slow the disease and prevent fatality.

Like many medical interventions, vaccinations pose some risk of injury. While most individuals do not suffer injuries from vaccines, some individuals are more susceptible to experiencing less severe conditions, like swelling, redness, and fever; or, more severe conditions like Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome. For these reasons, vaccine injury compensation programs as well as vaccine law firms have been established to compensate victims of vaccine injury.

Of course, the first step before seeking compensation is to determine whether a vaccine injury has been sustained. This article provides a helpful overview of a commonly overlooked vaccine injury, Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome, by discussing:

  • What is Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome?
  • What are the main types of Guillain-Barre’ syndrome?
  • Causes of Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome and its Risk Factors
  • Challenges of Living with Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome
  • How Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome Is Treated

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What is Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome, or GBS, is an immune disorder in which the immune system is triggered to attack nerve cells resulting in significant muscle weakness, disability, and possible paralysis. Since GBS initially attacks the peripheral nerves, which run outside of the brain and spinal cord, individuals usually experience numbness or tingling in the legs first that then travels up to the arms, cranial nerves, and muscles engaged in respiration. This upward progression helps distinguish GBS from other forms of muscle weakness, like botulinum poisoning, which progresses down the body. Most people who develop GBS fully recover from these effects while others suffer long-term nerve damage in the form of chronic weakness, numbness, or fatigue.

The effects of GBS on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems represent this condition’s greatest risks of fatality. Accordingly, people living with GBS must stay under the care of a medical professional from diagnosis and throughout their recovery period. Although Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome can develop in any age group, it more commonly affects older adults. In fact, new cases of GBS increase with age placing people over the age of 50 at the greatest risk of developing GBS. As for younger individuals, when GBS arises it tends to be among young adult men.

What are the main types of Guillain-Barre’ syndrome?

Guillain-Barre’ syndrome can present multiple ways. However, these are the main presentations:

  • Acute Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyradiculoneuropathy (AIDP)

This is the most common form of GBS in the United States that damages the insulation called myelin surrounding nerve axons in a process referred to as demyelination and disrupts signal transmission.

  • Miller Fisher Syndrome (MFS)

This form of GBS is more common in Asia with some cases in the United States. It differs in that it paralyzes the eye muscles first and then produces an unstable walking pattern.

  • Acute Motor Axonal Neuropathy (AMAN) and Acute Motor-Sensory Axonal Neuropathy (AMSAN)

Mostly seen in China, Japan, and Mexico, this GBS form damages nerve axons directly causing mobility issues and a decrease in sensory function.

Causes of Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome and its Risk Factors

Researchers have yet to determine what causes GBS, but several factors can place people at risk of developing this condition. These factors trigger Guillain-Barre’ most likely via their ability to activate the immune system:

  • Childhood vaccinations
  • Influenza (flu) vaccinations
  • Influenza virus
  • Campylobacter (bacterial) infection
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Hepatitis A, B, C, and E
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
  • Mycoplasma pneumonia
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Zika virus

Approximately 3,000 to 6,000 people develop GBS each year in the United States and two-thirds of those people start experiencing symptoms within days to weeks of undergoing one of the conditions above. Individuals must be tested for GBS in order to rule out other neurological diseases that sometimes mimic GBS including: cauda equina syndromes, nutritional deficiency-triggered acute neuropathies, critical illness, blood malignancy, and vasculitis. GBS diagnosis is typically confirmed with a neurological examination that reveals a decline in deep tendon reflexes.

Challenges of Living with Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome

Because Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome affects the nerves, complications of this disorder are typically neurologically-related. For this reason, people living with GBS may experience any of the following:

  • Bedsores

GBS disables the body and leaves many individuals confined to bed. Without consistent body rotation, this immobility can cause people with GBS to develop bedsores.

  • Blood clots

Immobility caused by GBS also increases individuals’ risk of forming blood clots, thus blood thinners and compression stockings often become part of their treatment regimen.

  • Cardiac arrhythmia and unstable blood pressure

Without reliable regulation via neurological control, the body loses its ability to stabilize heartbeat and regulate blood pressure.

  • Difficulty breathing

As a result of weakness or paralysis of the breathing muscles, as much as 30% of people living with GBS must rely on a ventilator to breathe.

  • Nerve pain

Nearly 50% of people living with GBS suffer from severe nerve pain and require medication for relief.

  • Numbness and tingling

This is the first indicator of nerve damage, usually in the legs, and only grows worse as the condition progresses.

  • Trouble passing urine and moving bowels

Thanks to compromised nerves, waste excretion is also disturbed resulting in constipation and urine retention.

How Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome Is Treated

Considering the invasiveness of GBS, it is recommended that people living with GBS be hospitalized to facilitate close monitoring. Hospitalization ensures supportive care for the patient consisting of ventilation use as well as heart function and blood pressure data collection. Likewise, should more acute complications arise, such as a blood clot or abnormal heartbeat, the patient can receive prompt care.

While there is no cure for GBS, treatment can alleviate symptoms, prevent complications, and limit the condition’s severity. Typical treatments include immunotherapy, which removes antibodies from the blood and therefore slows damage to nerve cells, and rehabilitation, which supports individuals’ mobility by strengthening the muscles and keeping them active. In severe GBS cases when nerve damage is rapid, blood transfusion has been utilized and proven effective as well.

If you have been diagnosed with GBS and you believe it resulted from a vaccination, contact Gold Law Firm, LLC at www.goldlawfirm.net and info@goldlawfirm.net today to speak with a vaccine attorney about your options for compensation.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]. (2017, November). Guillain-Barre’ syndrome and flu vaccine. Retrieved from CDC at https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/guillainbarre.htm

Khadilkar S.V., Yadav R.S., & Patel B.A. (2018). Guillain–Barré syndrome. Neuromuscular Disorders, 403-419. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-5361-0_36

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018, May). Guillain-Barre syndrome. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/guillain-barre-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20362793

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2018, June). Guillain-Barre’ syndrome fact sheet. Retrieved from National Institutes of Health at https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Guillain-Barr%C3%A9-Syndrome-Fact-Sheet#3139_6

Rinaldi, S. (2017). Guillain-Barre’ syndrome. Acute Medicine, 5(71). https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119389613.ch71

World Health Organization [WHO]. (2016, October). Guillain-Barre’ syndrome. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/guillain-barr%C3%A9-syndrome