Intensive management and treatment of severe Guillain-Barré syndrome

Crit Care Med. 1993 Mar;21(3):433-46. doi: 10.1097/00003246-199303000-00023.


Objective: To review the management and therapeutic approaches to severe acute Guillain-Barré syndrome, with emphasis on the ventilatory dysfunction, and cardiovascular instability seen in patients with this syndrome.

Data sources/study selection: Clinical studies on Guillain-Barré syndrome patients, physiologic studies on animals and humans.

Data extraction/synthesis: Guillain-Barré 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-Barré 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.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Animals
  • Critical Care*
  • Humans
  • Polyradiculoneuropathy / therapy*