Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves, which can cause significant weakness and even paralysis. In some cases, it can even lead to respiratory failure.
In this article, we’ll explore the different types of respiratory failure that can be caused by Guillain-Barre Syndrome, as well as the treatment options available.
What is Respiratory Failure?
Respiratory failure occurs when the lungs are unable to adequately exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. This can be due to a variety of factors, including hypoxemia or hypercapnia.
Signs and Symptoms
The most common signs and symptoms of respiratory failure include:
- Shortness of breath
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical help immediately, as respiratory failure can be a life-threatening condition.
What is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?
As previously mentioned, Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks its own nerves. This can result in weakness, tingling, and even paralysis. In some cases, it can also lead to respiratory failure.
There are two types of Guillain-Barre Syndrome: acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (AIDP) and acute motor axonal neuropathy (AMAN). AIDP is the most common type, while AMAN is more common in children.
Guillain-Barre Syndrome can occur at any age, but it is most common in adults between the ages of 40 and 60. It is also more common in men than women.
There are a variety of risk factors that may increase your chance of developing Guillain-Barre Syndrome, including:
- Previous infection with certain viruses or bacteria, such as Epstein-Barr virus, Cytomegalovirus, or Campylobacter
- Exposure to certain toxins, such as pesticides
- Autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus
The disorder is also more common in people from certain geographic regions, such as North America, Central America, and Asia.
Signs and Symptoms
The most common signs and symptoms of Guillain-Barre Syndrome include:
Respiratory failure is also a potential complication of Guillain-Barre Syndrome that results from neuromuscular paralysis.
Respiratory Failure Caused by Guillain-Barre Syndrome
The most common type of respiratory failure associated with Guillain-Barre Syndrome is known as neuromuscular respiratory failure.
This occurs when the muscles and nerves responsible for breathing are weakened or paralyzed. The result is that the lungs are unable to expand and contract properly, which reduces the amount of oxygen that is able to enter the bloodstream.
The treatment for neuromuscular respiratory failure caused by Guillain-Barre Syndrome typically involves mechanical ventilation. This is a process in which a machine is used to assist with the breathing process.
In some cases, patients may also require plasmapheresis. This is a treatment in which the plasma from the blood is removed and replaced with special solutions. This can help to reduce the severity of symptoms.
What are the Complications of Guillain-Barre Syndrome?
The complications of Guillain-Barre Syndrome include the following:
- Permanent nerve damage
- Muscle weakness
- Cardiac arrhythmias
- Respiratory failure
Other complications that can occur include blood clots, pneumonia, and sepsis.
What is the Prognosis for Guillain-Barre Syndrome?
The prognosis for Guillain-Barre Syndrome is generally good, especially if the condition is caught early and treated promptly. Most people will recover from the disorder within a few months. However, some may experience permanent nerve damage or muscle weakness.
How can I Prevent Guillain-Barre Syndrome?
There is no known way to prevent Guillain-Barre Syndrome. However, prompt treatment of any underlying infections or illnesses may help to reduce your risk of developing the disorder.
What are the Types of Respiratory Failure?
There are two types of respiratory failure: hypoxemic and hypercapnic. Hypoxemic respiratory failure occurs when there is a decrease in oxygen in the blood. Hypercapnic respiratory failure occurs when there is an increase in carbon dioxide in the blood.
Guillain-Barre Syndrome can cause both types of respiratory failure, although it is typically neuromuscular-related.
How is Respiratory Failure Treated?
The treatment for respiratory failure typically involves mechanical ventilation. This is a process in which a machine is used to assist with the breathing process. It can help improve the patient’s oxygenation and ventilation.
Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome Fatal?
Guillain-Barre Syndrome is not typically fatal. However, respiratory failure that can occur as a complication of the disorder can be life-threatening.
Severe cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome may result in total body paralysis and death. However, this is rare. Most people with the disorder will recover completely with treatment.
What is the Recovery Time for Guillain-Barre Syndrome?
The recovery time for Guillain-Barre Syndrome varies from person to person. Most people will recover within a few months. However, some may experience permanent nerve damage or muscle weakness.
Guillain-Barre Syndrome can cause a variety of respiratory problems, including neuromuscular respiratory failure. The most common treatment method typically involves the use of mechanical ventilation.
If you or someone you know has experienced any of the signs or symptoms associated with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, it’s important to seek medical help immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for the best possible outcome.
John Landry, BS, RRT
John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.
- Garg, Meenal. “Respiratory Involvement in Guillain–Barre Syndrome: The Uncharted Road to Recovery.” National Library of Medicine, July 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5488546/.
- Orlikowski, David, et al. “Respiratory Dysfunction in Guillain-Barré Syndrome.” National Library of Medicine, 2004, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16174943., pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16174943.
- Islam, Zhahirul, et al. “Risk Factors for Respiratory Failure in Guillain‐Barré Syndrome in Bangladesh: A Prospective Study.” National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6389747.
- Leonhard, Sonja E., et al. “Diagnosis and Management of Guillain–Barré Syndrome in Ten Steps.” National Library of Medicine, 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6821638.