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Clinical Policy Bulletin:
Guillain-Barre Syndrome Treatments
Number: 0732


  1. Aetna considers any of the following therapies medically necessary for the treatment of Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS):

    1. Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) when criteria in CPB 0206 - Parenteral Immunoglobulins (IVIG) are met.
    2. Outpatient pulmonary rehabilitation program when criteria listed in CPB 0032 - Pulmonary Rehabilitation are met.
    3. Plasmapheresis when criteria in CPB 0285 - Plasmapheresis/Plasma Exchange/Therapeutic Apheresis are met.
  2. Aetna considers the use of any of the following therapies for the treatment of GBS experimental and investigational because their effectiveness for this indication has not been established (not an all-inclusive list).

    1. Amantadine
    2. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor
    3. Cerebrospinal fluid filtration
    4. Corticosteroids
    5. Eculizumab
    6. Interferons (CPB 0404 - Interferons).


Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) is an acquired acute peripheral neuropathy causing limb weakness that progresses over a period of days to weeks.  It occurs with a median annual incidence of 1.3 cases per population of 100,000, with men being more frequently affected than women.  The prognosis of GBS is generally favorable, but it is a serious disease with a mortality of about 10 % and approximately 20 % of patients are left with severe disability.  Guillain-Barre syndrome is considered to be an autoimmune disease triggered by a preceding bacterial or viral infection.  Campylobacter jejuni, cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, and mycoplasma pneumoniae are commonly identified antecedent pathogens.  It is a heterogeneous disorder representing at least 5 different entities -- 3 are predominantly motor; namely acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (AIDP), acute motor sensory axonal neuropathy (AMSAN), and acute motor axonal neuropathy (AMAN); and the remaining 2 variants are Fisher syndrome, and acute panautonomic neuropathy (Lindenbaum et al, 2001; Kuwabara, 2004).

In the AMAN form of GBS, the infecting organisms probably share homologous epitopes to a component of the peripheral nerves and, therefore, the immune responses cross-react with the nerves causing axonal degeneration; the target molecules in AMAN are likely to be gangliosides GM1, GM1b, GD1a and GalNAc-GD1a expressed on the motor axolemma.  In the AIDP form of GBS, immune system reactions against target epitopes in Schwann cells or myelin result in demyelination; however, the exact target molecules in the case of AIDP have not yet been identified.  Acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy is by far the most common form of GBS in Europe and North America, whereas AMAN occurs more frequently in eastern Asia, namely China and Japan (Kuwabara, 2004).

Treatment of GBS entails management of severely paralyzed patients with intensive care and ventilatory support, and specific immunomodulating therapies that shorten the progressive course of GBS, presumably by limiting nerve damage.  High-dose intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) and plasmapheresis (PP)/plasma exchange (PE)/therapeutic apheresis aid more rapid resolution of the disease.  The predominant mechanisms by which IVIG exerts its action appear to be a combined effect of complement inactivation, neutralization of idiotypic antibodies, cytokine inhibition and saturation of Fc receptors on macrophages.

There is insufficient evidence that patients with GBS respond to corticosteroids (Lindenbaum et al, 2001; Czaplinski and Steck, 2004; Newswanger and Waren, 2004; Kuwabara, 2004).  Furthermore, a Cochrane review on corticosteroids for GBS (Hughes et al, 2006) stated that limited evidence demonstrates that oral corticosteroids markedly slow recovery from GBS.  Substantial evidence shows that intravenous methylprednisolone alone does not produce significant benefit or harm.  The authors noted that further investigation is needed and more effective treatments for GBS should be sought.

In a multi-center, randomized controlled study (n = 233), van Koningsveld et al (2004) reported that there was no significant difference between methylprednisolone plus IVIG and IVIG alone in the treatment of patients with GBS.  Odaka et al (2005) compared side effects in 9 patients with GBS treated with standard IVIG only and in 9 patients treated with combined methylprednisolone and IVIG therapy.  Headache occurred in 2 patients in both groups, suggesting that pre-infusion with steroids does not prevent headache.

In a Cochrane review, Hughes and colleagues (2010) examined the effectiveness of corticosteroids in the teratment of GBS.  These investigators searched the Cochrane Neuromuscular Disease Group Trials Specialized Register (June 2009), Medline (January 1966 to June 2009) and Embase from (January 1980 to June 2009).  They included quasi-randomized or randomized controlled trials of any form of corticosteroid or adrenocorticotrophic hormone.  The primary outcome was change in disability grade on a 7-point scale after 4 weeks of treatment; secondary outcomes included time from randomization until recovery of un-aided walking, time from randomization until discontinuation of ventilation (for those ventilated), death, death or disability (inability to walk without aid) after 12 months, relapse, and adverse events.  Two authors extracted the data.  No new trials were discovered in the new search in June 2009; 6 trials with 587 subjects provided data for the primary outcome.  According to moderate quality evidence, the disability grade change following 4 weeks in the corticosteroid groups was not significantly different from that in the control groups, weighted mean difference (WMD) 0.36 less improvement (95 % confidence intervals [CI]: 0.16 more to 0.88 less improvement).  In 4 trials of oral corticosteroids with 120 participants in total, there was significantly less improvement after 4 weeks with corticosteroids than without corticosteroids, WMD 0.82 disability grades less improvement, 95 % CI: 0.17 to 1.47).  In 2 trials with a combined total of 467 participants, there was no significant difference, WMD 0.17 (95 % CI: -0.06 to 0.39) of a disability grade more improvement after 4 weeks with intravenous corticosteroids.  According to moderate-to-high quality evidence, there were no significant differences between the corticosteroid-treated and the control groups in any of the secondary outcomes.  Diabetes was significantly more common and hypertension significantly much less common in the corticosteroid-treated participants.  The authors concluded that according to moderate quality evidence, corticosteroids given alone do not significantly hasten recovery from GBS or affect the long-term outcome.  According to low quality evidence oral corticosteroids delay recovery.  Diabetes requiring insulin was significantly more and hypertension less common with corticosteroids.

Interferon has not been shown to be effective for GBS.  Pritchard et al (2003) performed a pilot double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled safety trial of interferon beta 1a on patients with GBS.  Participants received interferon beta 1a or placebo subcutaneously thrice-weekly, 22 ug for the first week and then 44 ug for up to 24 weeks, in addition to IVIG.  These researchers reported that interferon beta 1a did not have any unexpected interaction with IVIG and there was no significant difference in rate of improvement.

Practice parameter on immunotherapy for GBS furnished by the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology (Hughes et al, 2003) has the following recommendations:

  • Corticosteroids are not recommended for the management of GBS;
  • IVIG is recommended for non-ambulant adult patients with GBS within 2 or possibly 4 weeks of the onset of neuropathic symptoms.  The effects of PE and IVIG are equivalent;
  • PE and IVIG are treatment options for children with severe GBS;
  • PE is recommended for non-ambulant adult patients with GBS who seek treatment within 4 weeks of the onset of neuropathic symptoms.  PE should also be considered for ambulant patients examined within 2 weeks of the onset of neuropathic symptoms; and
  • Sequential treatment with PE followed by IVIG, or immunoabsorption followed by IVIG is not recommended for patients with GBS.

Monaco and colleagues (2004) stated that in GBS and related variants, randomized clinical trials show that PE and IVIG are equally effective as disease-modifying treatments, although IVIG has been adopted as the favorite treatment in most centers.  Finsterer (2005) stated that concerning the treatment of GBS, there is no significant difference between IVIG, PE, and PE followed by IVIG.  Because of convenience and absent invasiveness, IVIG is usually preferred.

A Cochrane review (Hughes et al, 2006) stated that randomised trials in severe cases of GBS show that IVIG started within 2 weeks from onset hastens recovery as much as PE, which is known to be more effective than supportive care.  Treatment with IVIG is significantly more likely to be completed than PE.  Giving IVIG after PE did not confer significant extra benefit.  In children, IVIG probably hastens recovery compared with supportive care alone.  The authors stated that more research is needed in mild disease and in treatment starting more than 2 weeks following the onset of the condition.  These findings are in agreement with the afore-mentioned recommendations of the American Academy of Neurology.

Raphael (2005) noted that PE is the first-line treatment for GBS.  Two PE are recommended in patients who are able to walk (mild) with 2 additional PE if they deteriorate.  In patients who are unable to walk without assistance (moderate), 4 PE are sufficient, likewise in those who require mechanical ventilation (severe form).  It is not useful to add further PE in more severe disease or if there is no response.  High-dose of IVIG (0.4 g/kg daily for 5 days) and PE are equally effective in the treatment of intermediate and severe forms of GBS.  The choice between the 2 options depends on their respective contraindications and local availability.

Amantadine has not been proven effective for treatment of GBS.  In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial (n = 80), Garssen et al (2006) examined the effect of amantadine on severe fatigue related to GBS.  During the pre-treatment phase, all patients were monitored for 2 weeks.  Only patients with severe fatigue, defined as a mean fatigue score of greater than or equal to 5.0 on the Fatigue Severity Scale (FSS), were included in this study.  Primary outcome measure was improvement of at least 1 point on the FSS.  Secondary outcome measures were impact of fatigue, anxiety and depression, handicap, as well as quality of life.  A total of 80 patients were randomized, of whom 74 were included for analysis.  Fatigue appeared to be reduced already during the pre-treatment phase (p = 0.05), probably due to increased attention provided to the patients.  No significant differences in any of the primary and secondary outcome measures were found.  These researchers concluded that amantadine was not superior to placebo.

A multi-disciplinary consensus group reviewed the published medical literature and made recommendations regarding supportive care of persons with GBS (Hughes et al, 2005).  In the acute phase in bed-bound adult patients, the group recommended the use of heparin and graduated pressure stockings to prevent deep vein thrombosis, monitoring for blood pressure, pulse, autonomic disturbances, and respiratory failure, and the timely institution of artificial ventilation and tracheostomy.  The group noted that pain management is difficult, but carbamazepine or gabapentin may help.  The cautious use of narcotic analgesics may be needed.  Disabled patients should be treated by a multi-disciplinary rehabilitation team and should receive an assistive exercise program.  Persistent fatigue following GBS is common and may be helped by an exercise program.  The group stated that, because of a very small and possibly only theoretical increase in the risk of recurrence following immunization, the need for immunization should be reviewed on an individual basis.  The group reported that more research is needed to identify optimal methods for all aspects of supportive care.

van Doorn (2009) noted that epidemiological studies have shown that the incidence of GBS remains stable at about 2/100,000 per year; but that there have been changes in hospitalization use, likely due to the widespread availability of IVIG.  Research into mechanisms has shown the importance of single amino acids in campylobacter jejuni and the importance of ganglioside conformation.  In a murine model of anti-ganglioside antibody-mediated neuropathy, eculizumab was effective in reversing clinical disease and preventing pathology.  This suggested trials of eculizumab in GBS should be considered.  However, there are no new randomized controlled trials in GBS to report.

In a Cochrane review, Hughes et al (2011) reviewed systematically the evidence from randomized controlled trials for pharmacological agents other than PE, IVIG and corticosteroids.  These investigators searched the Cochrane Neuromuscular Disease Group Specialized Register (July 5, 2010), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library 2010, Issue 2), MEDLINE (January 1966 to June 2010) and EMBASE (January 1980 to June 2010) for treatments for GBS.  They included all randomized or quasi-randomized controlled trials of acute (within 4 weeks from onset) GBS of all types, ages and degrees of severity; and discarded trials that only tested corticosteroids, IVIG or PE.  These researchers included other pharmacological treatments or combinations of treatments compared with no treatment, placebo treatment or another treatment.  Change in disability after 4 weeks was the primary outcome.  Two authors checked references and extracted data independently.  One author entered and another checked data in Review Manager (RevMan).  They assessed risk of bias according to the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions.  They calculated mean differences and risk ratios with their 95 % CIs.  They assessed strength of evidence with GradePro software.  Only very low quality evidence was found for 4 different interventions.  One randomized controlled trial with 13 participants showed no significant difference in any outcome between IFN beta-1a and placebo.  Another with 10 participants showed no significant difference in any outcome between brain-derived neurotrophic factor and placebo.  A third with 37 participants showed no significant difference in any outcome between cerebrospinal fluid filtration and PE.  In a fourth with 20 participants, the risk ratio of improving by one or more disability grades after 8 weeks was significantly greater with the Chinese herbal medicine tripterygium polyglycoside than with corticosteroids (risk ratio 1.47; 95 % CI: 1.02 to 2.11).  The authors concluded that the quality of the evidence was very low.  Three small randomized controlled trials, of IFN beta-1a, brain-derived neurotrophic factor and cerebrospinal fluid filtration, showed no significant benefit or harm.  A 4th small trial showed that the Chinese herbal medicine tripterygium polyglycoside hastened recovery significantly more than corticosteroids but this result needs confirmation.  It was not possible to draw useful conclusions from the few observational studies.

CPT Codes / HCPCS Codes / ICD-9 Codes
CPT codes covered if selection criteria are met:
HCPCS codes covered if selection criteria are met:
J1561 Injection, immune globulin, (Gamunex/Gamunex-C/Gammaked), nonlyophilized (e.g., liquid), 500 mg
J1566 Injection, immune globulin, intravenous, lyophilized, (e.g., powder), 500 mg
J1568 Injection, immune globulin, (Octagam), intravenous, nonlyophilized (e.g., liquid), 500 mg
J1569 Injection, immune globulin, (Gammagard liquid), nonlyophilized, (e.g., liquid), 500 mg
G0332 Services for intravenous infusion of immunoglobulin prior to administration (this service is to be billed in conjunction with administration of immunoglobulin)
S9473 Pulmonary rehabilitation program, non-physician provider, per diem
HCPCS codes not covered for indications listed in the CPB:
G9017 Amantadine HCl, oral, generic name, 100 mg (for use in a Medicare-approved demonstration project)
G9033 Amantadine HCl, oral, brand name, 100 mg (for use in Medicare-approved demonstration project)
J0702 Injection, betamethasone acetate and betamethasone sodium phosphate, per 3 mg
J1020 Injection, methylprednisolone acetate, 20 mg
J1030 Injection, methylprednisolone acetate, 40 mg
J1040 Injection, methylprednisolone acetate, 80 mg
J1094 Injection, dexamethasone acetate, 1 mg
J1100 Injection, dexamethasone sodium phosphate, 1 mg
J1300 Injection eculizumab 10 mg
J1700 Injection, hydrocortisone acetate, up to 25 mg (Hydrocortone acetate)
J1710 Injection, hydrocortisone sodium phosphate, up to 50 mg
J1720 Injection, hydrocortisone sodium succinate, up to 100 mg
J2650 Injection, prednisolone acetate, up to 1 ml
J2920 Injection, methylprednisolone sodium succinate, up to 40 mg
J2930 Injection, methylprednisolone sodium succinate, up to 125 mg
J3301 Injection, triamcinolone acetonide, per 10 mg
J3302 Injection, triamcinolone diacetate, per 5 mg
J3303 Injection, triamcinolone hexacetonide, per 5 mg
J7506 Prednisone, oral, per 5 mg
J7509 Methylprednisolone, oral, per 4 mg
J7510 Prednisolone, oral, per 5 mg
J8540 Dexamethasone, oral, 0.25 mg
J9212 Injection, interferon alfacon-1, recombinant, 1 mcg
J9213 Interferon alfa-2A, recombinant, 3 million units
J9214 Interferon alfa-2B, recombinant, 1 million units
J9215 Interferon alfa-N3, (human leukocyte derived), 250,000 IU
J9216 Interferon gamma-1B, 3 million units
Q3027 Injection, interferon beta-1a, 1 mcg for intramuscular use
S9559 Home injectable therapy, interferon, including administrative services, professional pharmacy services, care coordination, and all necessary supplies and equipment (drug and nursing visits coded separately), per diem
ICD-9 codes covered if selection criteria are met:
357.0 Guillian-Barre syndrome

The above policy is based on the following references:
  1. van Der Meche FG, Schmitz PI. A randomized trial comparing intravenous immune globulin and plasma exchange in Guillain Barre syndrome. N Engl J Med. 1992;3267):1123-1129.
  2. Plasma Exchange/Sandoglobulin Guillain-Barré Syndrome Trial Group. Randomized trial of plasma exchange, intravenous immunoglobulin, and combined treatments in Guillain-Barré syndrome. Lancet. 1997;349(2047):225-230.
  3. Lindenbaum Y, Kissel JT, Mendell JR. Treatment approaches for Guillain-Barre syndrome and chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy. Neurol Clin. 2001;19(1):187-204.
  4. Raphaël JC, Chevret S, Hughes RAC, Annane D. Plasma exchange for Guillain-Barré syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2002;(2):CD001798.
  5. Shehata N, Kouroukis C, Kelton JG. A review of randomized controlled trials using therapeutic apheresis. Transfusion Med Rev. 2002;16(3):200-229. 
  6. Pritchard J, Gray IA, Idrissova ZR, et al. A randomized controlled trial of recombinant interferon-beta 1a in Guillain-Barre syndrome. Neurology. 2003;61(9):1282-1284.
  7. Hughes RA, Wijdicks EFM , Barohn R, et al. Practice parameter: Immunotherapy for Guillain-Barré syndrome. Report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology. 2003;61(6):736-740. Available at: Accessed April 9, 2004.
  8. Czaplinski A, Steck AJ. Immune mediated neuropathies -- an update on therapeutic strategies. J Neurol. 2004;251(2):127-137.
  9. Monaco S, Turri E, Zanusso G, Maistrello B. Treatment of inflammatory and paraproteinemic neuropathies. Curr Drug Targets Immune Endocr Metabol Disord. 2004;4(2):141-148.
  10. van Koningsveld R, Schmitz PI, Meche FG, et al. Effect of methylprednisolone when added to standard treatment with intravenous immunoglobulin for Guillain-Barre syndrome: Randomised trial. Lancet. 2004;363(9404):192-196.
  11. Kuwabara S. Guillain-Barre syndrome: Epidemiology, pathophysiology and management. Drugs. 2004;64(6):597-610.
  12. Newswanger DL, Warren CR. Guillain-Barre syndrome. Am Fam Physician. 2004;69(10):2405-2410.
  13. Fergusson D, Hutton B, Sharma M, et al. Use of intravenous immunoglobulin for treatment of neurologic conditions: A systematic review. Transfusion. 2005;45(10):1640-1657.
  14. Raphael JC. Guillain-Barre syndrome. Rev Prat. 2005;55(8):823-827.
  15. Finsterer J. Treatment of immune-mediated, dysimmune neuropathies. Acta Neurol Scand. 2005;112(2):115-125.
  16. Odaka M, Tatsumoto M, Hoshiyama E, et al. Side effects of combined therapy of methylprednisolone and intravenous immunoglobulin in Guillain-Barre syndrome. Eur Neurol. 2005;53(4):194-196.
  17. Hughes RA. Cornblatch DR. Guillain-Barre syndrome. Lancet. 2005;366(9497):1653-1666.
  18. Hughes RA, Raphael JC, Swan AV, van Doorn PA. Intravenous immunoglobulin for Guillain-Barre syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006;(1):CD002063.
  19. Garssen MP, Schmitz PI, Merkies IS, et al. Amantadine for treatment of fatigue in Guillain-Barre syndrome: A randomised, double blind, placebo controlled, crossover trial. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2006;77(1):61-65.
  20. Hughes RA, Swan AV, van Koningsveld R, van Doorn PA. Corticosteroids for Guillain-Barre syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006;(2):CD001446.
  21. Hughes, RA, Wijdicks, EF, Benson, E, et al. Supportive care for patients with Guillain-Barre syndrome. Arch Neurol. 2005;62:1194-1198.
  22. Cosi V, Versino M. Guillain-Barre syndrome. Neurol Sci. 2006;27 Suppl 1:S47-S51.
  23. Tsai CP, Wang KC, Liu CY, et al. Pharmacoeconomics of therapy for Guillain-Barre syndrome: Plasma exchange and intravenous immunoglobulin. J Clin Neurosci. 2007;14(7):625-629.
  24. Hughes RA, Swan AV, Raphael JC, et al. Immunotherapy for Guillain-Barre syndrome: A systematic review. Brain. 2007;130(9):2245-2257.
  25. Garssen MP, van Koningsveld R, van Doorn PA, et al. Treatment of Guillain-Barré syndrome with mycophenolate mofetil: A pilot study. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2007;78(9):1012-1013.
  26. Kaynar L, Altuntas F, Aydogdu I, et al. Therapeutic plasma exchange in patients with neurologic diseases: Retrospective multicenter study. Transfus Apher Sci. 2008;38(2):109-115.
  27. van Doorn PA What's new in Guillain-Barré syndrome in 2007-2008? J Peripher Nerv Syst. 2009;14(2):72-74.
  28. Hughes RA, Swan AV, van Doorn PA. Corticosteroids for Guillain-Barré syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;2:CD001446.
  29. Hughes RA, Swan AV, van Doorn PA. Intravenous immunoglobulin for Guillain-Barré syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;6:CD002063.
  30. Hughes RA, Pritchard J, Hadden RD. Pharmacological treatment other than corticosteroids, intravenous immunoglobulin and plasma exchange for Guillain Barré syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011;(3):CD008630.
  31. Raphael JC, Chevret S, Hughes RA, Annane D. Plasma exchange for Guillain-Barré syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;7:CD001798.
  32. Hughes RA, Swan AV, van Doorn PA. Intravenous immunoglobulin for Guillain-Barré syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;7:CD002063.
  33. Hughes RA, Pritchard J, Hadden RD. Pharmacological treatment other than corticosteroids, intravenous immunoglobulin and plasma exchange for Guillain-Barré syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;2:CD008630.

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Copyright Aetna Inc. All rights reserved. Clinical Policy Bulletins are developed by Aetna to assist in administering plan benefits and constitute neither offers of coverage nor medical advice. This Clinical Policy Bulletin contains only a partial, general description of plan or program benefits and does not constitute a contract. Aetna does not provide health care services and, therefore, cannot guarantee any results or outcomes. Participating providers are independent contractors in private practice and are neither employees nor agents of Aetna or its affiliates. Treating providers are solely responsible for medical advice and treatment of members. This Clinical Policy Bulletin may be updated and therefore is subject to change.
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