Former Chicago Bears defensive lineman William “The Refrigerator” Perry is said to be in serious condition at a South Carolina hospital. Perry, 46, was hospitalized to deal with complications from Guillain-Barre Syndrome. The 300-pound lineman was diagnosed last June with Guillain-Barré syndrome and hospitalized for five months. He used a wheelchair during his rehabilitation.
As someone with an autoimmune disease I was quite interested in this story and have been following it.
Guillain-Barré syndrome is an autoimmune disorder. Like most autoimmune diseases or disorders the body’s immune system reacts against some of its own tissue and produces antibodies to attack itself. In very simple terms the bad cells get confused and attack the good cells leaving one’s immune system compromised.
The medical community has guidelines for which one is a syndrome and which is a disease. From NINDS
“Guillain-Barré is called a syndrome rather than a disease because it is not clear that a specific disease-causing agent is involved. Reflexes such as knee jerks are usually lost. Because the signals traveling along the nerve are slower, a nerve conduction velocity (NCV) test can give a doctor clues to aid the diagnosis. “
Our immune system is a network of organs, cells and molecules. These all defend the body against things like bacteria, germs, and viruses. In a person without a compromised immune system this network usually does a good job of making it go away when it first hits the skin i.e. white cells and antibodies. The antibodies are supposed to trap the bad stuff that got away by producing cells that should kill the bad stuff. An autoimmune disorder results when these cells attack the body’s cells and not the foreign viruses.
Autoimmune disorders are classified into two types. One is directed mainly at one organ and the other is directed toward the whole body. I have the latter. My autoimmune disease is what is called systemic and can hit any part of me.
Guillain-Barré syndrome is caused when the immune system cells mistakenly attack nerve cells that support the muscles. Symptoms include weakness or tingling in the legs. This can spread and though only in severe cases could lead to death. The first symptom Perry may have experienced is weakness or tingling sensations in the legs.
This syndrome can affect you at any age and both sexes are equally apt to the disorder. This is very different than mine, Sjorgen’s Syndrome, which usually hits no earlier than age 40 and primarily in women. Guillain-Barré syndrome is not all that common. About one in 100,000 people might get it.
Usually Guillain-Barré develops after you have had symptoms of a respiratory or gastrointestinal viral infection. Surgery and vaccinations might trigger it but from all the reading I have done they really have no idea what causes this disorder or others like MS or Sjogren’s syndrome. Although they know what is happening, for example, in MS why it happened to that particular person is still a mystery. Some say it is hereditary. Some say it is environmental. Many of us if we think about it can pinpoint something that might have triggered the disorder.
A list of all autoimmune diseases (Lupus, Lyme disease, Crohn’s, Rheumatoid Arthritis) can be found here.
NINDS (National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Strokes)