CIDP is an illness that is often compared to Guillain-Barre, and is a term that you may have heard me use from time to time. I myself had never heard of it, until I started attending GBS conferences and found out that there was another disease out there like GBS. CIDP is a part of the GBS/CIDP Foundation; because we experience many of the same struggles, and I have several CIDP patients in my support group meetings.
CIDP stands for Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy. It is very similar to GBS in that it is a rare disorder that affects the peripheral nervous system (the nerves that are not a part of the spinal cord or brain), and is likely caused by a reaction from the immune system. Many of the same things that can trigger GBS may also trigger CIDP, (a case of GBS can even lead to CIDP) but a cause cannot always be linked. Just like GBS, as the illness progresses and as the immune system attacks the nerves, it starts to damage the myelin sheathe around the nerve, causing weakness or paralysis.
The biggest difference between GBS and CIDP is the onset. GBS generally comes on suddenly and progresses very quickly. GBS patients generally reach their maximum weakness in less than 30 days (in most people actually 14 days). But in CIDP, muscle weakness slowly progresses over months. CIDP is often called the chronic form of Guillain-Barre. GBS is an acute illness, meaning that once you hit your maximum weakness (the plateau stage) you start to recover and it does not usually return (although it can), However, like its name states, in Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy, the symptoms are chronic and continue, and do not usually improve unless ongoing treatment is provided. However, some people do stabilize. The initial symptoms of CIDP are similar to GBS; with tingling and weakness, slowly spreading throughout the body. However in contrast to GBS, most people will not go to a doctor for several weeks to months, because the weakness is so gradual.
Treatments for CIDP include glucocorticoid drugs (a steroid hormone) as well as IVIG and Plasmapheresis (treatments also used in Guillain-Barre) IVIG is a process that involves removing the plasma from your blood and replacing it with new plasma, and Plasmapheresis is a process that involves removing blood from your body and “cleaning” the plasma before putting it back into your body. With IVIG and Plasmapheresis, because of the chronic nature of CIDP, they are only effective for a few weeks and many people require regular treatments every couple months.
Like GBS, the severity of CIDP can range from mild to severe. Some people experience mild weakness which may not even be noticeable to others. Others experience more substantial weakness and require the use of aids (braces, canes, walkers or wheelchairs). And just likle GBS, most people have never heard of CIDP. Most doctors and nurses will never deal with a CIDP case in their entire careers. If left untreated, about 30% of CIDP will progress to wheelchair dependence, so it is extremely important to recognize the signs early on to get the proper treatment.