Multiple sclerosis and Guillain-Barré syndrome are both autoimmune diseases where the protective myelin coverings of the nerves are attacked by one’s own immune system. Both conditions are considered inflammatory demyelinating diseases of the nervous system.
The causes for both are unknown. While there are treatments for both, there is also no cure for either disease.
They differ in that MS affects the nerves of the brain and spinal cord, which is the central nervous system. Lesions are scattered throughout areas in the brain and often affect the optic nerve causing impaired vision.
Guillain-Barré is the result of an attack on the peripheral nervous system by cells located near the peripheral nerve roots. The onset of Guillain-Barré is dramatic, with rapid demyelinating nerve impairment occurring within hours or days of being affected.
Who is affected:
MS occurs in 40-100 people out of 100,000 and in mostly Caucasian populations. Only one-tenth of those affected are Japanese.(2)
MS is uncommon in children under the age of 10 and mostly appears in those aged 20 to 55. Women are more often affected than men.(4)
Guillain-Barré is more rare. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke only 1 in 100,000 people have the disorder. It can affect people of any age and affects men and women equally. (3)
How it develops and the symptoms:
MS symptoms may occur gradually, or develop then disappear, making it difficult to determine what is causing them.
Optic neuritis is a common first symptom as are impairments in speech, walking and memory. Patients may report difficulty with the bowel, bladder and sexual function.
There are four types of MS. The most common type is relapsing-remitting MS where the symptoms flare up and improve, unpredictably, for years.
Guillain-Barré is often preceded by a viral or bacterial infection, and its onset is sudden and serious.