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Guillain-Barré Syndrome

Osterhout Berger Daley > Disabling Conditions > Guillain-Barré Syndrome

Although it’s not very common, Guillain-Barré Syndrome is a serious condition that can make it difficult to see or walk, and it can cause many unpleasant or even life-threatening symptoms. Many people with this particular syndrome find it difficult or impossible to go to work and complete daily tasks, and this syndrome can last for years before they get better. Anyone who has Guillain-Barré Syndrome should learn about what kinds of disability benefits that they can receive through the Social Security Administration so that they can continue to pay bills until they’re able to go back to work.

What is Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

Guillain-Barré Syndrome is an auto-immune disease that affects a very small percentage of people. Anyone can get this syndrome, but it’s more common as people get older. Males are also slightly more likely to develop the syndrome than are females.

While the exact timeline for a person’s recovery can vary from patient to patient, there’s a general timeline that most people follow. In the first two weeks, a person will be diagnosed after seeing some symptoms. For another two weeks, the symptoms will get progressively worse. Symptoms usually plateau after this initial four-week period. Then, recovery can take anywhere from six months to a few years.

Doctors also don’t know the exact cause of the syndrome, but it often develops after a respiratory or digestive tract infection. In very rare cases, Guillain-Barré Syndrome can occur after a surgery, vaccination, or after becoming infected with COVID-19. Some other common triggers for the auto-immune syndrome include getting Hodgkins-Lymphoma, HIV, Epstein-Barr virus, hepatitis A, B, C, and E, and the Zika virus.

Essentially, Guillain-Barré Syndrome is when your immune system starts attacking the nerves instead of just foreign organisms. For instance, AIDP is one of the most common forms of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, and with this particular type of the syndrome, the immune system attacks the myelin sheath, which is the protective coating that keeps the message in the nerves working properly.

Symptoms of Guillain-Barré Syndrome

There are some general symptoms that are common regardless of the type of the syndrome that a person has, but there are multiple versions of the syndrome, and each one has it’s own unique symptoms that tend to be more common.

Some of the most common, universal symptoms include rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, and low or high blood pressure. Pins and needles sensations in the fingers, toes, wrists, and ankles is another possible symptom. Some patients can also experience weakness in the legs and upper body, double vision, difficulties climbing stairs, difficulties controlling facial movements, struggles with controlling bladder and bowel functions, inability to speak, chew, or swallow, and aching, cramping, or shooting pain that gets worse at night.

There are three different types of the syndrome, and the exact symptoms can change according to the exact type. For instance, people with AIDP are more likely to experience in the legs that spreads to the torso and upper half of the body.

People with Miller Fischer Syndrome are more likely to experience an unsteady walk and paralysis that starts in the eyes.

Finally, acute motor axonal neuropathy and acute motor-sensory axonal neuropathy are forms of Guillain-Barré Syndrome that are less common in the U.S. but are more common in Mexico, Japan, and China. And this form of the syndrome has its own unique way that the symptoms manifest.

Treatment for Guillain-Barré Syndrome

While there isn’t a cure for this particular syndrome, there are a couple of treatments that can reduce the number and lessen the severity of symptoms. For instance, some people might undergo plasmapheresis to get rid of the antibodies that are causing the negative reactions. In this process, the blood is drawn from the patient’s body and then spun to separate the plasma from the red blood cells. The red blood cells are then put back into the body.

Another treatment is to give the patient immunoglobins from donor blood. These immunoglobins, when given in high enough doses, can block the antibodies that contribute to the syndrome. Many people with this syndrome also receive pain killers to lessen the experience of pain and medication to prevent blood clots.

Some other kinds of treatment include physical therapy exercises. Often times, people will be given exercises that they can do with a caregiver so that the limbs can stay limber and strong even when the patient isn’t able to walk because the neural signals aren’t transmitting properly. Without any kind of movement, the muscles can atrophy, so the patient would have to build up the strength even after they’ve recovered.

Patients also receive a wheelchair or braces so that they can continue to be mobile and take care of themselves. Beyond some basic care and therapy, people who have developed this particular syndrome need time so that their bodies can heal themselves.

Disability Benefits for Guillain-Barré Syndrome

While Guillain-Barré Syndrome isn’t specifically listed in the SSA Blue Book, which is the guide that’s used to determine who qualifies for disability benefits, there are some ways that a person with this syndrome could still qualify. There are two basic routes for qualifying. One way is for the person to be able to meet the listing for disability benefits under another related condition.

There are a couple of disabilities other than Guillain-Barré Syndrome that a person can apply under. For instance, a person can apply for benefits under the chronic respiratory insufficiency listing. With this condition, a person has breathing problems that also result in lowered levels of oxygen. Another listing that some people can apply under is major joint dysfunction, which is when the muscles tighten, which makes it difficult for the person to use their arms or walk.

Another route to get benefits from the SSA for a disability is to get a residual functional capacity test, which will assess the applicant’s ability to do some sort of work. For this assessment, the patient’s doctor will need to make an inventory of all the tasks that the patient is no longer capable of doing. Then, the Social Security Administration will compare that list with the other types of jobs that the person has done to determine whether or not one of those types of jobs is still something that they would be able to do.

In order to receive disability benefits for Guillain-Barré Syndrome or any other disability, the symptoms must last or be expected to last for at least 12 months. Many people with this syndrome meet this time requirement because it can last from six months up to three years, but each case will be evaluated individually to determine whether or not the applicant will meet the requirement.

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