Guillain-Barré Syndrome After a Gunshot Wound to the Thoracic Spine


Department of Neurosurgery, Advocate BroMenn Medical Center

Department of Neurosurgery, Advocate Christ Medical Center

Department of Trauma Surgery, Advocate Christ Medical Center


BACKGROUND: Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a rare but well-documented cause of paralysis, often occurring after infection. Few cases have been reported in association with spinal cord injury (SCI), which masks the characteristic ascending paralysis. To our knowledge, this is the first reported case of confirmed GBS during the clinical course of thoracic paraplegia due to a gunshot wound (GSW).

CASE DESCRIPTION: A 23-year-old male presented with a GSW to the right axilla that lodged in the spinal canal at the level of T4, causing right hemothorax and American Spinal Injury Association A paraplegia. He had full strength in bilateral upper extremities until 2 weeks after the injury, at which time he developed progressive weakness in the arms with associated paresthesias and dyspnea. Within 5 days, he was intubated and nearly quadriplegic. Cerebrospinal fluid analysis and electromyography led to a diagnosis of GBS. He was treated with plasmapheresis and experienced rapid and marked recovery in respiratory and upper extremity motor function.

CONCLUSIONS: The differential diagnosis for new-onset weakness in patients with GSW-induced SCI is complicated by the inability to obtain magnetic resonance imaging. This unique case of GBS in a patient with T4 paraplegia highlights the importance of obtaining a thorough history and using diagnostic tools to explore possibilities beyond surgery.

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