Guillain-Barre is a rare but serious autoimmune condition. It affects the nerves and can sometimes be life-threatening. While no known cure exists, treatments such as IVIG are available for Guillain-Barre disease. People can make a full recovery by receiving treatment early. If you’re battling this disease, you might also benefit from treatment with IVIG. Here is everything you need to know about IVIG for Guillain-Barre syndrome.
What is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?
Before learning about IVIG, you must understand what Guillain-Barre syndrome is. Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) is a severe autoimmune disorder with a rapid onset. In this disease, the body’s immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system, which rapidly progresses to limb weakness and paralysis. Guillain-Barre syndrome can affect people of all ages. However, it’s more common among adult men. In the US, two out of every 100,000 people suffer from Guillain-Barre, which can be treated with IVIG therapy. Those who don’t receive treatment, especially older individuals, may need hospitalization.
Guillain-Barre syndrome affects the arms and legs, with most patients reporting signs of a viral infection weeks before diagnosis. The most common symptoms of GBS include:
- Blurred vision
- Muscle weakness
- Breathing difficulties
- Balance and coordination issues
- Chewing and swallowing difficulties
- Tingling and numbness in the hands and feet
These symptoms can worsen quickly, weaken the muscles in the respiratory system, and cause complete paralysis. If you don’t receive IVIG for Guillain-Barre syndrome, you might find yourself in the ER, requiring assisted ventilation.
There are various subtypes of Guillain-Barre for which IVIG may be beneficial. These subtypes include:
Acute Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (AIDP)
This subtype accounts for up to 80% of the cases, and it’s more common in Europe and North America. It starts with muscle weakness in the lower part of the body.
Acute Motor Axonal Neuropathy (AMAN)
This subtype is more prevalent in Mexico, Japan, and China. It is not associated with sensory symptoms.
Acute Motor Sensory Axonal Neuropathy (AMSAN)
This subtype is one of the most severe forms of GBS, necessitating prolonged respiratory support. AMSAN is also more common in Mexico, Japan, and China.
This subtype is more prevalent in East Asian countries such as Japan and Taiwan. It causes double vision, balance issues, and deep tendon reflexes. The dosage of IVIG for each Guillain-Barre subtype may vary.
Scientists have not yet determined the exact cause of Guillain-Barre syndrome. However, the following conditions may trigger GBS:
- Viral infections
- Bacterial infections
These factors can trigger an immune response in the body and cause the immune system to attack its own healthy nerves. This attack will damage the myelin sheath around nerves and lead to muscle weakness. The use of IVIG for Guillain-Barre syndrome aims to regulate this immune response.
To determine if you have GBS, a physician evaluates your medical history and performs a physical exam. They will then recommend the following tests to diagnose Guillain-Barre syndrome:
- Nerve Tests
- Antibody Tests
- Nerve Conduction Studies
- Cerebrospinal Fluid Testing (CSF)
With an early diagnosis of the condition, you can manage the symptoms better and shorten the treatment course.
There are several treatment options for Guillain-Barre syndrome. These are the two main treatments.
Plasma Exchange (Plasmapheresis)
In this alternative treatment to IVIG for Guillain-Barre, a machine removes your blood, filters it to eliminate the harmful antibodies, and returns it to your body.
The most common treatment for Guillain-Barre syndrome is IVIG or intravenous immunoglobulin therapy.
IVIG for GBS
Immune globulin injections are solutions containing plasma pooled from donated blood that contains healthy antibodies. While the exact mechanism of action for IVIG is still not well established, scientists suggest that these healthy antibodies modulate a compromised immune system. They bring your immune system under control by decreasing the harmful antibodies that are attacking your nerves. These infusions will reduce the severity of your symptoms and soothe the nerve damage. However, IVIG won’t cure Guillain-Barre.
Is IVIG Truly Effective for Guillain-Barre Syndrome?
Yes. IVIG is a potent treatment option for GBS. Numerous studies confirm its efficacy. Let’s take a closer look at some of them.
An Assessment of IVIG as Therapy for Pediatric GBS
An early study in 1997 assessed the effectiveness of IVIG on pediatric GBS. In this research, scientists treated seven children with a median age of 5.8 years with 0.4 g/kg/day IVIG infusion for 5 days. They saw clinical improvements within 1 – 2 days of treatment. Their review of other studies showed 74 additional children who saw improvements in their symptoms after receiving IVIG for Guillain-Barre disease. They concluded IVIG was as effective as plasmapheresis with fewer complications and should be the first-line therapy for Guillain-Barre syndrome.
A Meta-Analysis of Treatment Efficiencies for Guillain-Barre Syndrome
A more recent study in 2021 compared the efficiency of different treatments for GBS. Researchers analyzed 28 trials for this analysis that comprised 2474 subjects and human control groups. They found that corticosteroids had no significant effect, while IVIG and plasma exchange were effective for GBS treatment. They suggested that future trials should further explore the efficiency of combined therapies.
A Review of the Effects of IVIG on Guillain-Barre
In another review in 2021, scientists went over 12 clinical trials. They found that even in the most severe cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, IVIG can hasten recovery when administered within two weeks from the onset of the disease. According to their research, 25% of GBS cases are severe enough to necessitate artificial ventilation, and 3% – 12% of patients die from complications. Their finding shows that IVIG can help hasten recovery in these patients and improve their symptoms.
An Assessment of Mobility After Treating Guillain-Barre With IVIG
In one of the latest observational studies in December 2022, scientists examined GBS patients treated with IVIG. They measured the average predicted probability of being unable to walk unaided after receiving treatment. Their findings were as follows:
- 47.7% after 4 weeks
- 17% after 3 months
- 8.05% after 6 months
They concluded that early detection of Guillain-Barre syndrome and treatment with IVIG improves mobility as measured by The Modified Erasmus GBS Outcome Scale.
IVIG Procedure for Guillain-Barre
Receiving IVIG infusions for GBS is straightforward and almost painless. Treatment can be administered intravenously or subcutaneously. You will feel minor pain only when the nurse inserts the needle into your arm. You can opt for home infusion services, visit an infusion center, or go to a hospital to receive your treatment. Each infusion will take about 3 to 5 hours to complete. You will receive 2 g of IVIG per kg of body weight split over 5 days. If you need a second dose, you can receive it 7 to 9 days after the first dose. IVIG for Guillain-Barre is only administered under the expert guidance of a physician.
Side Effects of IVIG Treatment for Guillain-Barre Syndrome
IVIG treatment for GBS can induce immediate or delayed side effects in some people. The immediate side effects include mild headache, chills, fever, and body aches that will resolve shortly. The delayed side effects of IVIG are rare and may include renal impairments, neurological issues, and thrombotic events. Note that less than 1% of IVIG recipients experience these side effects.
When Will I See the Results?
IVIG treatment expectations for Guillain-Barre will vary based on the severity of your symptoms. It will take some time for you to see an improvement. Most people notice alleviation in their symptoms after 6 – 12 months. For others, it may take up to 3 years. Some of the symptoms may linger even after receiving treatment. However, people have made a full recovery with treatment.
Cost of IVIG Treatment for Guillain-Barre Syndrome
IVIG is an expensive treatment due to its manufacturing process. The cost per gram can range from $100 to $350. This price will vary based on a person’s age, weight, number of required infusions, injection method, and more. The overall cost of IVIG treatment for Guillain-Barre can be over $5,000. However, there are financial assistance options to help reduce the cost of your treatments. Most insurance plans cover a portion of the costs, and you can apply for copay assistance programs designed to help individuals battling GBS. Our experts at AmeriPharma™ Specialty Pharmacy can help you find the best programs for your condition.
Receive At-Home IVIG Treatment for Guillain-Barre Syndrome from AmeriPharma™ Specialty Pharmacy
Guillain-Barre syndrome can be a life-threatening condition. However, you can manage it with early detection and treatment. AmeriPharma™ Specialty Pharmacy is here to help. Our full-service pharmacy offers home infusion services and IVIG treatments for Guillain-Barre disease. We can send a licensed nurse to your home at a time of your choosing to administer your treatment. With copay assistance, 24/7/365 support, and services in over 40 US states, we are here to help you manage your condition. Contact us today to talk to a specialist and start receiving specialty care at home. Visit our blog to learn more about our IVIG infusions and other treatments for complex health conditions.
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Dr. Christine Leduc, PharmD, was born and raised in Irvine, CA. She attended college at Midwestern University, where she graduated cum laude. The most rewarding part of her job is suggesting lifestyle changes, educating patients on how their medication works, and precepting future pharmacists. Her areas of expertise are customer service and knowledge of specialty medication. Having worked in the service industry in the past, she has gained the customer service skills necessary to understand the needs of her patients. Dr. Leduc is currently precepting students from Marshall B. Ketchum University, University of Kansas, and Midwestern University. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, baking, and gardening.