What are the treatment options for Guillain-Barre syndrome?

Because the symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome progress so fast, the first step in treating Guillain-Barre is to stabilize the patient. Once the immediate emergency has been taken care of, there are two possible treatments. The first, plasmapheresis, involves getting rid of the damaging substances in the blood that are causing the Guillain-Barre symptoms. The second, intravenous immunoglobulin, involves injecting high doses of healthy blood cells into the body to fight against the Guillain-Barre syndrome. The body will then begin to slowly recover.

Treatment option for GBS include intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) and plasmapheresis.  
Studies have shown both to be equally effective is decreasing the severity and shortening the duration of GBS.  
Both are associated with distinct side effects and the treatment is decided on by the treating physician.  

There is no known cure for Guillain-Barre syndrome. However, there are therapies that lessen the severity of the illness and accelerate the recovery in most patients. There are also a number of ways to treat the complications of the disease.

Currently, plasma exchange (sometimes called plasmapheresis) and high-dose immunoglobulin therapy are used. Both of them are equally effective, but immunoglobulin is easier to administer. Plasma exchange is a method by which whole blood is removed from the body and processed, so that the red and white blood cells are separated from the plasma or the liquid portion of the blood. The blood cells are then returned to the patient without the plasma, which the body quickly replaces. Scientists still don't know exactly why plasma exchange works, but the technique seems to reduce the severity and duration of Guillain-Barr? syndrome. This may be because the plasma portion of the blood contains the elements of the immune system that may act as toxic to the myelin.

In high-dose immunoglobulin therapy, doctors give intravenous injections of the proteins (in small quantities) that the immune system uses naturally to attack invading organisms. Investigators have found that giving high doses of these immunoglobulins, derived from a pool of thousands of normal donors, to Guillain-Barr? patients can lessen the immune attack on the nervous system. Investigators don't know why or how this works, although several hypotheses have been proposed.

The use of steroid hormones has also been tried as a way to reduce the severity of Guillain-Barr?, but controlled clinical trials have demonstrated that this treatment is not effective and may even have a deleterious effect on the disease.

The most critical part of the treatment for this syndrome includes keeping the patient's body functioning during the recovery of the nervous system. This can sometimes require placing the patient on a respirator, a heart monitor, or other machines that assist body function. The need for this sophisticated machinery is one reason why Guillain-Barre syndrome patients are usually treated in hospitals.

This answer is based on source information from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Doctors usually treat Guillain-Barre syndrome with two forms of treatment that can lessen the severity of symptoms and accelerate recovery.
  • Plasmapheresis is a procedure in which doctors filter abnormal antibodies from the blood. Plasmapheresis is effective in relieving the symptoms of muscle weakness and fatigue and speeds recovery.
  • High-dose immunoglobulin therapy (IVIg), in which patients receive infusions of the immune proteins derived from normal donors, can lessen the immune system's attack on the nervous system and also speed the time to recovery.

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