Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), an autoimmune disorder that affects the peripheral nervous system, can have devastating effects if not diagnosed early and treated quickly. Patients typically experience numbness, weakness, tingling and paralysis that begins in the extremities and ascends up the arms and legs to the torso.
People with untreated Guillain-Barre syndrome can experience serious complications, such as difficulty breathing, heart and blood pressure problems, bladder and bowel dysfunction, and paralysis. To avoid these serious problems and the lasting effects that can result, accurate diagnosis is essential.
Unfortunately, misdiagnoses occur, prolonging patients’ illness and suffering. If this has happened to you or a family member, you should talk with an experienced Florida medical malpractice attorney to find out if you have a medical malpractice case.
Symptoms and Complications of Guillain-Barre Syndrome
The first signs of GBS are typically tingling and weakness that starts in your feet and legs and rapidly spreads to the rest of your body. In addition to the tingling and weakness, you might experience instability or inability in walking, cramp-like pain, difficulty with bladder or bowel functions, difficulty breathing, rapid heart rate, low or high blood pressure, and difficulty with facial movement.
Complications of GBS can be very serious. If the weakness or paralysis spreads to the muscles that control your breathing, you could need to be placed on a ventilator. If the weakness and instability affect your ability to move and you become immobile, you could develop blot clots. And if your blood pressure and heart rhythms fluctuate, your heart’s functioning could be affected.
The good news is that most people do recover from GBS if they are diagnosed and treated for the disease before life-threatening symptoms occur.
Causes of Guillain Barre Syndrome
Guillain Barre Syndrome is an autoimmune disease, meaning that your body’s immune system attacks part of your own body, in this case the myelin sheath, or protective layer around your peripheral nerves. When the sheath is damaged, the nerves cannot transmit signals effectively, so you experience tingly or painful sensations, weakness, lack of coordination or inability to move.
The cause of this syndrome is unknown. However, it is known that many people with GBS have previously had an infectious disease. Possibly the infection changes the nervous system cells and the immune system treats them as foreign, or the infection affects the immune system, triggering it to attack nervous system cells.
Diagnosing Guillain-Barre Syndrome
The signs and symptoms of GBS can vary and are also associated with other disorders, so diagnosis is sometimes not accurate or timely. In fact, some patients see three or more doctors before they are correctly diagnosed, putting them at risk for developing serious complications and for being treated for another disorder.
Doctors should be able to note GBS’s specific symptoms, the characteristic rapid onset, and loss of certain reflexes, and order the correct diagnostic tests. A nerve conduction velocity test can help a doctor determine the possibility of a GBS diagnosis, and a spinal tap looking for elevated fluid protein can help confirm the diagnosis.
There’s no cure for Guillain-Barre syndrome, but different therapies can help alleviate the symptoms, handle the complications, and shorten the time you are affected by the disorder. Presently, two options exist for treating GBS: Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG), in which injections of the proteins the immune system uses to attack invading organisms are administered, and plasmapheresis (plasma exchange), in which your plasma is separated from your red and white blood cells. Neither option is more effective than the other, but IVIG is easier to administer.
Typically GBS patients are hospitalized because the symptoms and severity of the disorder are not predictable, and monitoring your breathing and the functioning of your other systems is important until you are stabilized. In fact, the most important part of your treatment is keeping your body functioning while your nervous system recovers. This might mean breathing assistance, a heart monitor, and other machines that help with movement.
Prognosis for Those with Guillain-Barre Syndrome
Most people recover from Guillain-Barre syndrome, but it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years, and some have residual weakness even after three years. In addition to the psychological toll from being unable to function normally, another long-term consequence is the recurrence of fatigue, pain and muscle aches.
Misdiagnosis of Guillain-Barre Syndrome
GBS can be devastating, but even more devastating is a misdiagnosis and improper treatment. If a neurologist isn’t consulted, if the right tests aren’t ordered, if a spinal tap is administered within the first week of the disorder and then not repeated later, a misdiagnosis can happen. Unfortunately, misdiagnosis of Guillain-Barre syndrome is all too common, and serious complications can occur before the correct diagnosis is made.
Florida Guillain-Barre Syndrome Misdiagnosis Medical Malpractice Lawyer
Although Guillain-Barre syndrome is not very well understood, each year, thousands of people in the U.S. are affected by the disorder. Some recover fully, while others suffer from serious physical complications.
Many of those afflicted with GBS will receive prompt, accurate diagnoses and proper treatment, while others will not.
If you or a family member has suffered from the misdiagnosis of transverse myelitis, you may have a medical malpractice case. Contact the experienced Florida medical malpractice attorneys at Paul & Perkins as soon as possible to discuss your case.
GBS/CIDPS Foundation International. (2016). “Áll about GBS.” http://www.gbs-cidp.org/gbs/all-about-gbs/
Mayo Clinic. (2016). “Guillain-Barre Syndrome.” http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/guillain-barre-syndrome/basics/definition/con-20025832
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2011). “Guillain-Barré Syndrome Fact Sheet.” http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/gbs/detail_gbs.htm
“Neurologic Emergencies: Diagnosing a Syndrome That’s as Life-threatening as It Is Treatable.” Originally published in 2006 issues of Today’s Hospitalist. http://www.todayshospitalist.com/index.php?b=articles_read&cnt=167
Pope, J. V., & Edlow, J.A. (2012). “Avoiding Misdiagnosis in Patients with neurological Emergencies.” Emergency Medicine International. http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2012/949275