BY JULIA NELSON
A lot of people wonder if Guillain-barre syndrome and fibromyalgia are related. Both produce pretty similar symptoms in people who suffer from them, which makes it easy to see why people would think that there may be a connection between Guillain-barre syndrome and fibromyalgia. But is there? Let’s take a look at what these diseases are, exactly, and how they’re related.
What is Guillain-barre syndrome?
Guillain-barre syndrome (which is actually pronounced gee-yay buh-ray in case you were wondering) is a disease that causes your body’s immune system to start attacking your nerves. No one knows exactly what causes it, but the fact that it often starts after a serious illness implies that it may be your body over-reacting to being exposed to a virus.
You see, in a healthy person, the immune system works by sending white blood cells to attack foreign cells like viruses or bacteria. But with autoimmune diseases like Guillain-barre syndrome, those white blood cells become too sensitive and begin mistaking your own cells for foreign invaders. Thus, for people with an autoimmune disease, the body is essentially attacking itself.
As a result, people with Guillain-barre have a host of symptoms. These include:
Muscle aches and fatigue
A tingly feeling in your limbs that leads to numbness
Severe lower back pain
Typically, the disease sets on after an illness with a stinging or tingling feeling in your fingers and spreads to the rest of your body. It slowly becomes more difficult to move your muscles as the disease spreads. In severe cases, Guillain-barre syndrome can lead to total paralysis within a few minutes. It can be fatal if the paralysis spreads to the lungs, which makes breathing impossible.
But for most people, the condition usually resolves itself, though the recovery can take weeks or even months. Obviously, the condition requires treatment by medical professionals, though.
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is another condition that produces a lot of similar symptoms. It causes muscle aches and fatigue and causes pain in the lower back. No one is sure what causes fibromyalgia, but there are a lot of people who believe that it might also be an autoimmune disease.
It’s possible that both Guillain-barre syndrome and fibromyalgia are caused by the same thing, which is the immune system attacking nerves. At the moment, though, no one is sure exactly how fibromyalgia causes the symptoms it does.
But it is definitely different from Guillain-barre syndrome in a few crucial ways. First, the pain manifests itself in 18 specific points on the body, instead of the generalized pain of GBS. Second, people with fibromyalgia don’t gradually become paralyzed like people with GBS do. Finally, while Guillain-barre syndrome generally heals after a few weeks or months, fibromyalgia doesn’t get better with time and there’s no effective cure for it.
And no one is sure exactly what the link between Guillain-barre syndrome and fibromyalgia is, but it seems like there may be one.
How are Guillain-barre syndrome and fibromyalgia related?
Well, here’s where things get tricky. We know that Guillain-barre and fibromyalgia both produce similar symptoms. And we know that both attack the muscles. But it’s not clear that they are both the same kind of disease.
But it does seem like there is a connection in the sense that Guillain-barre can actually lead you to develop fibromyalgia. A bout with Guillain-barre Syndrome is often extremely traumatic on the body. And it’s been established that that kind of trauma can trigger fibromyalgia.
In fact, people with Guillain-barre have reported that they were diagnosed with fibromyalgia after they recovered from GBS. So it’s possible that the over-sensitization of your immune system that comes with GBS also triggers fibromyalgia afterward. Then again, that connection could be a total coincidence.
Unfortunately, while there is anecdotal evidence from fibromyalgia sufferers that suggests there’s a link between fibromyalgia and Guillain-barre Syndrome, so far, doctors haven’t conclusively proven it either way. But still, it seems like they must have some relationship, right? After all, they seem to affect the body in such a similar way. So it seems likely that developing a better understanding of the basic functions that trigger both conditions could help lead to breakthroughs in studying how the nerves produce chronic pain syndromes.
And that gives hope that one day we may understand the relationship between Guillain-barre syndrome and fibromyalgia. And that may yield a better chance at curing both diseases.
But let us know, do you have Guillain-barre syndrome? Are your symptoms similar to fibromyalgia? Did you get fibromyalgia after being diagnosed with Guillan-barre? Tell us in the comments.