Intensive management and treatment of severe Guillain-Barre syndrome

E. F. Hund, C. O. Borel, D. R. Cornblath, D. F. Hanley, G. M. McKhann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Objective: To review the management and therapeutic approaches to severe acute Guillain-Barre syndrome, with emphasis on the ventilatory dysfunction, and cardiovascular instability seen in patients with this syndrome. Data Sources/Study Selection: Clinical studies on Guillain-Barre syndrome patients, physiologic studies on animals and humans. Data Extraction/Synthesis: Guillain-Barre syndrome is an acutely evolving, immune- mediated, inflammatory disorder of the peripheral nervous system, leading to demyelination and axonal loss. Clinical hallmarks are symmetric flaccid muscle paresis and areflexia in the presence of an increased cerebrospinal fluid protein content, and electrophysiologic studies demonstrating evolving demyelination. The only well-investigated, efficacious immunomodulatory therapy is plasmapheresis. Plasmapheresis has been shown to decrease ventilator dependence in severe Guillain-Barre syndrome. Ventilatory failure and cardiovascular instability are the main reasons for intensive care support. Ventilatory failure is caused by involvement of airway and respiratory muscles, particularly the diaphragm. Cardiovascular instability is due to involvement of the autonomic nervous system and results in labile blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias, and hypovolemia. After admission to the intensive care unit, the most serious complications result from mechanical ventilation, circulatory disturbances, thrombosis, starvation, and sepsis. Special emphasis should be given to psychologic support and management of pain. Conclusions: With modern intensive care support, the outcome is excellent (>80% recovery). In severe cases, a higher frequency of persistent residual paresis occurs; however, the majority of this group ultimately have a good functional recovery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)433-446
Number of pages14
JournalCritical care medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 1993


  • Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • critical illness
  • dysautonomia
  • immunoglobulin therapy, intravenous
  • intensive care
  • neurologic emergencies
  • nursing care
  • nutritional support
  • plasmapheresis
  • polyradiculoneuritis
  • respiratory failure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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