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Intravenous immunoglobulin for Guillain-Barré syndrome

  • Review
  • Intervention




Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is an acute, paralysing, inflammatory peripheral nerve disease. Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) is beneficial in other autoimmune diseases. This is an update of a review first published in 2001 and previously updated in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2010. Other Cochrane systematic reviews have shown that plasma exchange (PE) significantly hastens recovery in GBS compared with supportive treatment alone, and that corticosteroids alone are ineffective.


To determine the efficacy of IVIg for GBS.

Search methods

We searched the Cochrane Neuromuscular Disease Group Specialized Register (15 August 2011), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library 2011, Issue 3), MEDLINE (January 1966 to August 2011) and EMBASE (January 1980 to August 2011). We checked the bibliographies in reports of the randomised trials and contacted the authors and other experts in the field to identify additional published or unpublished data.

Selection criteria

Randomised and quasi-randomised trials of IVIg compared with no treatment, placebo treatment, PE, or other immunomodulatory treatments in children and adults with GBS of all degrees of severity. We also included trials in which IVIg was added to another treatment.

Data collection and analysis

Two authors independently selected papers, extracted data and assessed quality. We collected data about adverse events from the included trials.

Main results

In this review, seven trials with a variable risk of bias compared IVIg with PE in 623 severely affected participants. In five trials with 536 participants for whom the outcome was available, the mean difference (MD) of change in a seven-grade disability scale after four weeks was not significantly different between the two treatments: MD of 0.02 of a grade more improvement in the intravenous immunoglobulin than the plasma exchange group; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.25 to -0.20. There were also no statistically significant differences in the other measures considered. Three studies including a total of 75 children suggested that IVIg significantly hastens recovery compared with supportive care.

In one trial involving 249 participants comparing PE followed by IVIg with PE alone, the mean grade improvement was 0.2 (95% CI -0.14 to 0.54) more in the combined treatment group than in the PE alone group; not clinically significantly different, but not excluding the possibility of significant extra benefit. Another trial with 37 participants comparing immunoabsorption followed by IVIg with immunoabsorption alone did not reveal significant extra benefit from the combined treatment.

Adverse events were not significantly more frequent with either treatment, but IVIg is significantly much more likely to be completed than PE.

Small trials in children showed a trend towards more improvement with high-dose compared with low-dose IVIg, and no significant difference when the standard dose was given over two days rather than five days.

Authors' conclusions

A previous Cochrane review has shown that PE hastens recovery compared with supportive treatment alone. There are no adequate comparisons of IVIg with placebo in adults, but this review provides moderate quality evidence that, in severe disease, IVIg started within two weeks from onset hastens recovery as much as PE. Adverse events were not significantly more frequent with either treatment but IVIg is significantly much more likely to be completed than PE. Also, according to moderate quality evidence, giving IVIg after PE did not confer significant extra benefit. In children, according to low quality evidence, IVIg probably hastens recovery compared with supportive care alone. More research is needed in mild disease and in patients whose treatment starts more than two weeks after onset. Dose-ranging studies are also needed.

Plain language summary

Intravenous immunoglobulin for Guillain-Barré syndrome

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is an uncommon disease of the peripheral nerves. It causes weakness, numbness and breathing difficulty. Another Cochrane review has shown that plasma exchange (PE) (taking blood from one vein, separating the plasma from the blood cells and then returning the blood cells with a plasma substitute into another vein) is more effective than supportive care alone. We found seven trials that compared intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) (antibodies that have been purified from donated blood) with PE in 623 severely affected participants. In adults, moderate quality evidence shows that receiving IVIg speeds recovery from severe GBS as much as PE. IVIg is slightly safer and much easier to give than PE. According to moderate quality evidence from one trial with 249 participants, IVIg added to PE is not significantly more effective than either alone. Low quality evidence suggests that IVIg is also beneficial in children. More research is needed to determine the best dose in adults and children.