GBS Infection Recovery: How Long Will It Take?

A Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) infection attacks healthy nerves in the body. It’s often preceded by a gastrointestinal or respiratory condition.

Man holding his right knee with both hands as he sits on the top step of a staircase

A Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) infection is uncommon. It’s characterised by pain, muscle weakness, balance and coordination problems, and a numb or prickly sensation in the limbs.

In some cases, albeit rare, people may suffer long-term effects or near-total paralysis. It can also lead to life-threatening complications, such as blood clots and severe breathing difficulties.

The condition affects people of all ages and adult men more than women. Read on to discover the reasons behind a GBS infection and treatment options that’ll address symptoms and help restore a person’s health. 

Woman holding a tissue roll with her left hand and placing her right hand on her abdomen
Food poisoning is one of the medical conditions that can lead to a GBS infection. 

What is GBS and Why Does It Happen? 

GBS is an autoimmune disease. It involves the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy nerves in the hands and feet. Notably, the condition can happen a few days or weeks after a respiratory or gastrointestinal infection. 

Some infections that make a person vulnerable to GBS include:  

  • HIV 
  • Influenza virus
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Hepatitis A, B, C and E
  • Dengue fever
  • Glandular fever
  • Zika virus
  • COVID-19 virus
  • Surgery
  • Trauma
  • Food poisoning due to consumption of foods or beverages that contain the Campylobacter jejuni bacteria (often found in undercooked poultry) 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the occurrence of a GBS infection relates to pathogenic factors.

“Phlegm, blood clots, Cold, Wind, Fire, Dampness, and Qi Stagnation are common causes of Guillain-Barré syndrome. Blood, Qi (vital life force), Yin (passive energy), and Yang (active energy) Deficiencies can also increase a person’s risk of a GBS infection. These involve the major visceral organs, which are the Heart, Liver, Spleen, Lungs, and Kidneys,” explains Real Health Medical’s Senior Physician Brandon Yew.

Is it Possible to Recover from a GBS Infection? 

The condition is incurable and impairs physical functioning. However, the silver lining is that supportive clinical care can help patients recover over time. These will run over several weeks or months and may require hospital admission. TCM, meanwhile, can speed up recovery from a GBS infection.

Man undergoing IVIG treatment at a healthcare facility
IVIG is frequently used to treat autoimmune diseases.

Intravenous immunoglobulin therapy (IVIG) 

People with a GBS infection are given IVIG in a few large doses. It has a high concentration and diverse collection of antibodies and is prepared from blood donated by thousands of people.

IVIG is also used to treat various other autoimmune and infectious diseases. It has the same effect on medical conditions that stem from an unknown cause. These are called idiopathic diseases or conditions.

Plasma exchange (Plasmapheresis) 

The treatment helps remove excess antibodies, abnormal proteins, or harmful substances from the blood. Hence, plasma exchange is a viable option to treat or manage autoimmune, blood, or nervous system disorders.

It uses a machine to pull plasma – the liquid portion of blood – from blood cells. The latter is then mixed with a substitute and returned to the body.

Herbal decoctions 

TCM recognises that the pathological subtypes of GBS have specific effects on different body constitutions. Thus, Physician Yew recommends using herbal formulas to correct imbalances within the visceral organs or meridians, fibrous tissues (sinews), spinal muscles, and joints.

Examples of these are: 

  • Fu Ling Wan (茯苓丸) 
  • Si Ni San (四逆散) 
  • Si Ni Tang (四逆汤) 
  • Xuan Bi Tang (宣痹汤) 
  • Yi Yi Ren Tang (薏苡仁汤) 
  • Bu Yang Huan Wu Tang (补阳还五汤) 
  • Dang Gui Nian Tong Tang (当归拈痛汤) 
  • Dang Gui Si Ni Tang (当归四逆汤) 
  • Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang (独活寄生汤) 
  • Shen Tong Zhu Yu Tang (身痛逐瘀汤) 
  • Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang (桂枝芍药知母汤) 
  • Huang Qi Gui Zhi Wu Wu Tang (黄芪桂枝五物汤) 
  • Ma Huang Xi Xin Fu Zi Tang (麻黄细辛附子汤)

Acupuncture and acupressure treatments 

In clinical therapy, acupuncture helps suppress nervous system inflammation. It also promotes healing and recovery of nerve functions.

TCM also uses the treatment to lower a person’s risk of disease. It does this by unblocking meridian channels, restoring organ function, and enhancing blood and qi circulation.

Acupressure is a massage technique used alongside acupuncture to achieve similar benefits.

The acupressure points that are associated with an improvement of GBS symptoms include: 

  • Jing ming (BL1, 睛明), bai hui (DU20, 百会), and yang bai (GB14, 阳白) for alertness, cognition, mood, vision, and facial movement
  • Tian tu (RN22, 天突), di cang (ST4, 地仓), jia che (ST6, 颊车), and xia guan (ST7,下关) for speech, chewing and swallowing
  • He gu (LI4, 合谷), shou san li (LI10, 手三里), qu chi (LI11, 曲池), bi nao (LI14, 臂臑), lao gong (PC8, 劳宫), and wai guan (SJ5, 外关) for pain, numbness and weakness in the upper body

Early intervention can help the symptoms of a GBS infection resolve naturally. If a person wishes to use herbal remedies or acupuncture treatment, it’s advisable to seek consultation with a TCM practitioner beforehand.

References

  1. National Health Service. Overview – Guillain-Barré syndrome. [online] [Accessed 2 August 2022]
  2. World Health Organization. 2016. Guillain-Barré syndrome. [online] [Accessed 2 August 2022]
  3. National Health Service. Causes – Guillain-Barré syndrome. [online] [Accessed 2 August 2022]  
  4. Medscape. 2018. Uses of Intravenous Immunoglobulin. [online] [Accessed 2 August 2022] 
  5. National Cancer Institute. Plasma exchange. [online] [Accessed 2 August 2022]  

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