What causes CIDP?
Current theory holds that the body’s immune system, which normally protects itself, perceives myelin as foreign and attacks it. Myelin is an important part of the peripheral nervous system. It wraps around the nerve axon (the long, wire-like part of a nerve cell) much like insulation around an electrical wire. The nerves extend from the spinal cord to the rest of the body, stimulating muscle contraction and transmitting sensory information back to the nervous system from receptors in the skin and joints. This insulation (myelin) allows electrical impulses to efficiently travel along the nerve axon. When myelin is damaged or removed, these electrical impulses are slowed or lost, and messages transmitted from the brain are disrupted and may never make it to their final destination. What causes this process is not yet clear.
How is CIDP diagnosed?
Diagnosis of CIDP is based on the symptoms of the patient:
Symptoms such as loss of sensation (numbness), abnormal sensation (tingling and pain), loss of reflexes, and weakness (difficulty walking, foot drop)
Tests such as nerve conduction and EMG (usually showing a demyelinating neuropathy), spinal fluid analysis (usually showing elevated protein with normal cell count), blood and urine tests (to rule out other disorders that may cause neuropathy and to look for unusual proteins)
Presented by Dr. Kenneth Gorson in June 2015, Managing Your CIDP is an informative lecture that outlines the history, diagnostic protocols, and treatment strategies of CIDP. This lecture includes a question and answer session at the end.
How is CIDP treated?
There are three standard or first line treatments in CIDP:
- Corticosteroids (Prednisone, Prednisolone) are similar to naturally occurring anti-inflammatory hormones made by the body, and can be used as an initial treatment. Corticosteroids often improve strength, are conveniently taken by mouth, and are inexpensive. Side effects however can limit long-term use.
- High dose Intravenous Immune Globulins (IVIG) is the only drug that has FDA, Canadian, and European approval for treatment of CIDP. IVIG contains naturally occurring antibodies obtained from healthy volunteers. IVIG is given through a vein over the course of several hours. Newer preparations of higher concentrations that can be given under the skin (subcutaneous) are currently being tested in controlled trials in CIDP patients.
- Plasma Exchange (PE), or Plasmapheresis (PLEX), is a process by which some of the patient’s blood is removed and the blood cells returned without the liquid plasma portion of the patient’s blood. It may work by removing harmful antibodies contained in the plasma.
There are a large number of so-called second line drugs used to treat CIDP. These are used when the above standard treatments fail, cause significant side-effects, or the clinical response is not optimal. These drugs are largely not tested in randomized controlled trials, but their use is supported by case series from the medical literature.
There are a number of so-called third line treatments, usually chemotherapy drugs, but these should be given only in selected circumstances and by those with extensive experience in their use.
There are also ongoing research studies (see www.clinicaltrials.gov)
Treatment of CIDP is an art. An experienced doctor is more likely to have good outcomes than someone treating their first case as is true throughout medicine. That is why we have set up the Centers of Excellence program. If treated early, most CIDP patients respond well to therapy that can limit the damage to peripheral nerves and contribute to improved function and quality of life and at times can cure the disorder altogether.
Typical CIDP is a symmetrical motor and sensory progressive neuropathy affecting proximal and distal muscles with loss of deep tendon reflexes.
Multifocal Motor Neuropathy is a pure motor disorder in which there is asymmetric weakness in the distribution of individual nerves that can be confirmed by diagnostic nerve conduction results.
Lewis-Sumner syndrome is a sensory-motor disorder in which there is sensory loss and weakness in the distribution of individual nerves. Diagnostic nerve conduction studies confirm the focal nerve involvement.
Pure sensory CIDP presents with sensory loss, pain, and poor balance with abnormal gait or walking. There is no weakness but frequently motor nerve conduction studies are abnormal in addition to sensory conduction studies.
Pure motor CIDP presents with weakness and loss of reflexes without sensory loss.
There are other less well established variants most of which would fall into the category of CIDP.
Living with CIDP
Post-treatment life depends on whether the disease was caught early enough to benefit from treatment options. Patients respond in various ways. The gradual onset of CIDP can delay diagnosis by several months or even years, resulting in significant nerve damage that may limit and delay the response to therapy. The chronic nature of CIDP requires long-term care of patients. Accommodations in the home may be needed to facilitate daily living activities.
For your reference, you can access a full (1 hour 45 min) presentation on CIDP in the video below. Note that this lecture is part of a “Managing your CIDP” series sponsored by the GBS|CIDP Foundation, and similar presentations will also be given in the following cities in Fall 2016: Los Angeles, Phoenix, Kansas City MO, San Francisco, Dallas, Minneapolis, and New Orleans. We encourage anyone who is able to attend an event in person to do so, as lecture content will be consistently updated to include the most recent information.