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What Is Guillain-Barré Syndrome?
Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) is a rare inflammation of nerves which complicates an earlier, usually milder, infection. It has also developed following immunization against certain strains of influenza, and can occur as a reaction to some malignant diseases, including Hodgkin's disease. The condition usually begins one to three weeks after an infectious illness such as pharyngitis or gastroenteritis.
The disease is characterized by weakness which affects the lower limbs first, and rapidly progresses in an ascending fashion. Patients generally notice weakness in their legs, manifesting as "rubbery legs" or legs that tend to buckle, with or without dysesthesias (numbness or tingling). As the weakness progresses upward, usually over periods of hours to days, the arms and facial muscles also become affected. Frequently, the lower cranial nerves may be affected, leading to bulbar weakness, (oropharyngeal dysphagia, that is difficulty with swallowing, drooling, and/or maintaining an open airway) and respiratory difficulties. Most patients require hospitalization and about 30% require ventilatory assistance. Facial weakness is also commonly a feature, but eye movement abnormalities are not commonly seen in ascending GBS.
Sensory loss, if present, usually takes the form of loss of proprioception (position sense) and areflexia (complete loss of deep tendon reflexes), an important feature of GBS. Loss of pain and temperature sensation is usually mild. In fact, pain is a common symptom in GBS, presenting as deep aching pain usually in the weakened muscles, which patients compare to the pain from overexercising. These pains are self-limited and should be treated with standard analgesics. Bladder dysfunction may occur in severe cases but should be transient.
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