DISCLAIMER: CONSULT WITH A DOCTOR BEFORE DECIDING ON A TREATMENT PLAN FOR ANY DISEASE OR INJURY.
What is Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS)?
Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a neurological autoimmune disorder in which the body’s own immune cells start attacking the myelin sheaths around the nerves, eventually resulting in the destruction of these myelin sheaths. When myelin sheaths are destroyed, this can lead to damage to the underlying nerve fibers or even nerve cell death. Since myelin is responsible for allowing nerves throughout the body to communicate, the destruction of these sheaths means that an action in the body that requires nerve cell communication will be impeded. When nerve cells can’t communicate, they can’t make a coordinated effort toward movement (conscious or unconscious) or use of the senses (touch, smell, taste, etc.).
In Guillain-Barre Syndrome, the primary symptoms include:
- Symmetrical weakness in the limbs (particularly in the hips, legs, or ankles)
- Hyporeflexia (where your muscles don’t respond as quickly or dramatically to stimuli)
- Areflexia (a total lack of muscle response to stimuli)
- Paresthesia, or the sensation of “pins and needles” on the skin (this sensation can sometimes be painful for some GBS patients)
Some people develop a particularly severe variation of GBS known as Miller-Fisher Syndrome (MFS). In this variation of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, the symptoms present more severely and patients often experience total paralysis, including loss of control of the eye muscles (meaning that people with MFS are unable to move their eyes). In this article, unless otherwise specified, assume that the natural treatments described are geared to treat both Guillain-Barre as well as its Miller-Fisher variant.
Some sources report that most people experience a full recovery from GBS within 6 months to one year following the onset of symptoms. However, approximately one-third of these people will experience symptoms like muscle weakness or chronic pain/fatigue for up to 3 years, even after semi-complete recovery. It’s also worth noting that once a person has had GBS once, this increases their chances of experiencing a relapse or recurrence of GBS in the future. Conventional treatments (discussed below) have minimal success in most cases, and the majority of people who recover still have uncomfortable symptoms for years afterwards.
Though many people can and do recover from GBS within one year or less following symptom onset, some individuals who are treated using conventional medicine continue to have symptoms over the long term, including:
- Blood pressure changes
- Chronic pain (including back pain, muscle pain, radicular pain, arthralgia, pain in the extremities, meningism, painful paresthesias, and more)
- Respiratory dysfunction and/or complications from this
- Abnormalities or impairments in sensory experience (such as areflexia, paresthesia, etc)
Conventional Western Medicine Treatment for GBS
The primary conventional treatments available for Guillain-Barre Syndrome are intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) and plasma exchange therapy (plasmapheresis). GBS patients may also receive painkillers to relieve pain, laxatives in case of constipation, or anti-blood clotting medication to prevent blood clots. The patient may be administered a catheter if they have trouble urinating. Patients who have problems with breathing or swallowing may also be given a feeding tube or be put on a ventilator. Unfortunately, many of these medications or treatments have undesirable side effects or relatively low success rates in comparison with other kinds of treatment for GBS.
One study into these treatments noted that, even with these conventional therapies, approximately 25% of GBS patients still require artificial ventilation, and about 20% are still unable to walk after 6 months of treatment. Therefore, though apparently these treatments do (sometimes, kind of) work, their success rate is actually quite low. In addition, a lot of patients will still experience chronic pain for years after treatment, while some other patients may even continue to have sensory problems and severe fatigue (indicating that perhaps the root cause of GBS for these patients hasn’t really been resolved by the conventional treatments described below, but rather covered up or slowed down). Additionally, out of all patients treated using these therapies, about 10% of them will experience an initial improvement followed by deterioration afterwards.
Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIG)
Intravenous immunoglobulin treatment involves the administration of an IV of donated blood that is supposed to contain healthy antibodies. This blood is administered directly into the GBS patient’s vein via IV. The goal of this therapy is to ultimately stop the body from producing antibodies that attack its own nerve cells. IVIG therapy must be administered over the course of 2-4 weeks in order for patients to see any improvement.
There is a fairly long list of side effects that may occur with IVIG therapy, but some of the most common include:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Flu-like symptoms
- Injection site pain, itching, redness, etc.
- Chest tightness
- Stomach pain (specifically in the upper stomach)
- Nausea and/or diarrhea
- Upper respiratory tract infection
- Increased blood pressure
- Heart palpitations
I want to mention also that there have been reports of people developing GBS after receiving IVIG therapy for other illnesses. Though this probably isn’t especially common (I wasn’t able to find the exact statistics for this), it’s still something to consider, especially for people who already have Guillain-Barre Syndrome and are considering treatment with IVIG. A treatment that might cause or aggravate the health problem you already have (no matter how slim the chances) seems worrisome.
Plasma Exchange (Plasmapheresis)
Plasma exchange is a treatment where a patient’s own blood is removed from their vein, processed in a special machine to remove the harmful antibodies that are attacking the body’s own cells, and then is reinjected as “cleansed” blood back into the patient’s bloodstream. Most people must undergo this treatment for at least 5 days.
Some of the side effects of plasmapheresis include:
- Faintness / light-headedness
- Numbness and/or tingling sensations
- Muscle cramps
- Allergic reaction (this is an allergy to the solutions used to perform the plasma exchange, and may include shortness of breath, swelling, anaphylactic shock, itchiness, etc)
Guillain-Barre Syndrome, Pathogenic Infection, and Vaccines
Guillain-Barre Syndrome is often associated with a preceding infection. Some viral and bacterial infections that have been closely associated with the subsequent development of Guillain-Barre Syndrome include:
- Zika virus,
- Epstein-Barr virus,
- Mycoplasma pneumonia,
- Haemophilus influenzae,
- Campylobacter jejuni,
- Influenza A virus (also known as H1N1)
- Hepatitis E has been noted to be an antecedent to the development of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in various populations around the world.
- Shigella bacteria
- Clostridium bacteria
- Hepatitis A, B, and C
Other studies have noted that coronavirus infections like COVID-19 may also play a role in the development of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in some situations. According to current statistics, a relatively significant number of people have also experienced the onset of GBS after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine (with or without actual infection with the COVID-19 virus).
Neurological Side Effects of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine
The CDC and the FDA have noted Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a potential side effect of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine specifically. Other neurological events have also been reported with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and others currently in use. Some of the more commonly reported neurological events post-COVID vaccine include:
- Balance and movement disorders
- Aphasia (inability to understand others’ speech due to brain damage)
- Bell’s Palsy
- Double vision
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Dysarthria (difficulty speaking due to brain damage)
- Dystassia (inability to stand upright)
- Facial paralysis
- Hypoaesthesia (loss of the sense of touch)
- Loss of personal independence in daily activities
- Loss of consciousness and/or fainting
- Decreased mobility
- Speech disorders
- Unresponsiveness to stimuli
- Blurred vision or visual impairment
- Mini-strokes (transient ischemic attacks)
- Inflammation of the spinal cord
These neurological events often build up over the course of about 2 weeks after a person receives a COVID-19 vaccine. Some people begin by reporting body aches or fainting, for example, with a gradual increase in symptom severity over this 2 week post-vaccination period of time. The progression toward Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) induced by the COVID-19 vaccine may include loss of touch, smell, or ability to communicate clearly, pain in the back and hips (or other areas of the body), and reduced ability to move as normal.
While these neurological symptoms have been noted in individuals who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, other vaccines using similar formulas may also produce these side effects. The Jannssen vaccine is a viral vector vaccine, so it stands to reason that other COVID-19 viral vector vaccines in particular may also cause these kinds of neurological problems in addition to increasing the risk of developing Guillain-Barre Syndrome (which is, after all, first and foremost a neurological autoimmune disorder).
The development of GBS has also been reported following vaccination with the Moderna, Pfizer, and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines. In most individuals who were vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine and then developed GBS shortly afterward, there was no other illness (such as flu, the common cold, Campylobacter infection, etc) that was observed prior to vaccination, which suggests that the vaccine itself is the most likely cause of the GBS symptoms.
Other Vaccines that May Cause Guillain-Barre Syndrome
Other vaccines that have been closely linked to the development of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) include the tetanus and influenza vaccines. Seasonal influenza vaccines change formulations each year, while tetanus vaccines are often administered in a combined vaccine with diphtheria and pertussis vaccinations (DTaP, TDaP, TD, DTP, DT, and TD are all variations of this combined vaccine). The MMR vaccine and typhoid/cholera vaccines have also been implicated in the development of GBS in the past.
Most of these vaccines are administered to very young children, with the influenza vaccines being administered yearly starting at 6 months of age and the combination vaccine for tetanus being administered at 2 months, 6 months, and 6 months, with another dose between 15-18 months, and the suggestion to get a booster shot every 10 years once a person reaches adulthood. The MMR vaccine is supposed to be administered starting at 12 months of age. The typhoid/cholera vaccines aren’t a part of the normal vaccination schedule in most developed countries, but are mostly given only to travelers upon request. Because these vaccinations are primarily given to children, their connection with GBS has mostly been observed in infants and children (though some instances have been noted in older people, too).
The Swine Flu epidemic of 1976 resulted in the production of the influenza A (H1N1) vaccine. This was one of the first significant vaccines that caused a fairly high number of Guillain-Barre cases, many of which unfortunately resulted in lifelong paralysis of varying degrees and other symptoms of post-vaccine Guillain-Barre Syndrome. During this time, the official records show that about 1 out of every 100,000 people who received the H1N1 vaccination subsequently developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome (note, however, that these are official numbers, and that it’s possible that the unofficial numbers may be higher since some cases may not have been reported).
One case report examining an instance of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in a man who had received the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine also noted that there was some degree of connection between receipt of hepatitis A, hepatitis B, polio, meningococcal, and rabies vaccinations and the subsequent development of GBS. The same report notes that out of all of the various vaccinations that may lead to GBS, the seasonal influenza vaccine has demonstrated the highest risk.
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