It started with a stomach infection for Bengaluru-based advertising professional Vidyuth Nair two years ago.
On the seventh day into his infection, his legs started giving him trouble at work. He usually took the bike to his office, but that day he had problem controlling the gear and clutch.
As his condition deteriorated further, he consulted his family doctor and got an MRI done. The results came clean but he still didn’t feel any better.
A trip to a neuro surgeon and a few tests later it was confirmed that he was suffering from the Guillain–Barré syndrome (GBS).
“By next morning, I was totally out,” says twenty-eight-year old Vidyuth. His was a severe case of GBS which left him completely paralysed from below the neck.
What is Guillain-Barré syndrome?
It is a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system. It is characterized by rapid worsening action in all four limbs and weakening of the respiratory and facial muscles.
GBS is often triggered by an infection, mainly gastrointestinal infections (like diarrhea) or respiratory infections (like cough), explains Dr Rajesh B Iyer, Sr Consultant Neurologist in Vikram Hospitals, Bengaluru.
The disease can be mild or severe, with patients suffering from the latter type needing either a plasma exchange or Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) treatment.
While those suffering from a milder form of GBS can recover within months, those suffering from the severe type can take 3-4 years for recovery.
Though not a very common disorder, it is also not an uncommon one, says Dr Rajesh. “Majority of the patients recover over the course of time, with younger patients getting well in lesser time,” he says.
67-year-old M Priyakumar (67), a Bengaluru-based consulting civil engineer, suffered from a mild case of GBS one-and-a-half years ago.
“I started getting an unrelated leg pain. And one fine day, I was finding it difficult to walk,” says Priyakumar describing how the disorder struck him.
He paid a visit to a neurologist who diagnosed him with GBS.
“My right foot had been affected, but it did not spread to any other part of my body. I felt no pain. It was just that my leg did not move. I was in the hospital for five days and underwent physiotherapy for a month at home afterwards,” he says adding that today he has recovered fully.
GBS can affect almost anybody, but is less common in young children. There is also an increase in the number of GBS patients during the monsoon season between the months of July and October.
In minor cases, GBS can be misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. “Muscle pain is common in many people and GBS may be passed as viral infection too,” according to Dr Rajesh.
Treatment for GBS is expensive- a plasma exchange treatment in a private hospital can cost anywhere between Rs 80,000-90,000 and IVIG can cost Rs 2-3 lakh. This is excluding other costs like hospital costs and physiotherapy.
Vidyuth was hospitalized for two months and had to undergo sustained treatment and physiotherapy before he got back his mobility.
“It has taken me 3 years to walk with a cane,” says Vidyuth adding that while his body is fully functional now, he still cannot perform physically demanding activities like running.
He recently left his job to focus completely on physiotherapy.