Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) is a rare but serious neurological condition that can appear with little warning, and its underlying cause is not always identifiable. Although most people will not experience GBS in their lifetime, it is important to minimize your risk factors and know the symptoms.
Know Your Risks
Most incidences of GBS are seemingly spontaneous, and there is some conflicting information on medications and vaccinations that could be associated with an increased risk of developing GBS. A small number of people may develop GBS as a rare side effect of routine vaccinations, such as the flu vaccine. In these instances, the vaccination may have contributed to an autoimmune response in people who were already predisposed to develop GBS.
For the few who develop GBS, it is more likely to occur after a major stress to the body. Some common stressors are viral or bacterial infections, major surgery, or other illnesses. Chronic infections, such as those occurring with the human-immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or hepatitis, may also increase the risk of developing GBS. Since GBS is more often triggered by illness, routine vaccinations are more likely to offer a protective benefit.
Practice Safe Food Preparation
A specific bacteria, Campylobacter, has been associated with a significant portion of GBS occurrences; however, infection with the bacteria rarely leads to GBS. The bacteria is commonly found in raw poultry but is easily destroyed by cooking poultry thoroughly. Infection by Campylobacter leads to classic food poisoning symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Fortunately, most cases of Campylobacter resolve without the development of GBS or other long-term effects.
Investing in a meat thermometer is the ideal way of making sure all protein is cooked to a safe level, especially for whole pieces of meat where it is difficult to test for doneness without cutting into the meat. Learn the appropriate ways of measuring temperature in different types of meat and their safe temperatures. If the thermometer touches a bone during testing, you may receive a false temperature reading when the meat is truly underdone. Be meticulous with the handling of other foods you may prepare with poultry to prevent cross-contamination, especially if a portion of your meal will not be cooked.
If you are eating out, break open your food to assess the doneness before taking a bite. Never accept your food, especially poultry, that is just a little pink or underdone. Food that is supposed to be hot should be served to you hot and cold food should still be cold when you receive it. Foods that are eaten at the appropriate temperature can reduce the risk of many foodborne illnesses. You should be especially vigilant at buffets and picnics where food is left standing and is not always continuously at the appropriate temperature.
Recognize Early Symptoms
The symptoms associated with GBS can appear rapidly, but they most often occur over several weeks and may be easy to ignore until they progress. Early treatment is critical for reducing the risk of death and long-term neurologic damage from GBS. The main symptom of GBS is progressive loss of motor control and paralysis. GBS is described as a type of ascending paralysis, because it starts in the lower extremities and spreads upward.
In the early stages, mild weakness and the sensation of numbness or tingling is easier to excuse as not feeling well or another medical condition. Unfortunately, it may be easy to overlook or misdiagnose by medical professionals, especially those who are unfamiliar with the syndrome. Eventually, the syndrome progresses and can lead to complete paralysis. Since the syndrome is an autoimmune attack of the nervous system, in severe cases the nerves responsible for vital functioning, such as breathing, can become impaired.
Although rare, GBS is a serious neurological syndrome that is worth considering. Knowing the early-stage symptoms can help you start a treatment plan that may reduce your incidence of long-term neurological damage. For more information, visit a neurology clinic near you, such as Billings Clinic.