What is Miller Fisher Syndrome?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
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Miller Fisher syndrome is a rare condition that is a close relative of Guillain-Barre syndrome. Both diseases occur suddenly after illness and both affect the nerves. The main differences are that Miller Fisher syndrome tends to cause nerves to be less responsive from the head down and Guillain-Barre often begins with symptoms in the leg and spreads up the body. Though the symptoms of Miller Fisher don’t happen often, they are recognizable, and there is treatment that can help promote a cure. Sometimes the condition isn't completely curable and some nerve damage may remain after treatment.

There are three main symptoms of Miller Fisher syndrome: areflexia, ataxia and ophthalmoplegia. In plain language, areflexia means the body’s normal reflexes are not working properly or may not be responding at all. Ataxia refers to the way people control their muscles, and when this condition arises, it may change ability to coordinate the muscles resulting in things like tremor, difficulty walking, and shakiness. Ophthalmoplegia refers to paralysis of the muscles in the eyes, resulting in double vision and inability to control eye movement. Disorder of nerve function in the eyes is usually the first symptom observed.

In addition to the three major diagnostic elements of this syndrome, people might have other symptoms. Some develop respiratory failure and will require breathing support. Along with ataxia, many people report muscle weakness throughout the body and have great difficulty using any of the muscles with ease.


These telltale symptoms of Miller Fisher syndrome, especially when examining medical history and recent signs of illness or potential other causes, necessitate one or two main treatments for the condition, which are fairly effective. People with this condition are often given immunoglobulin by intravenous administration. This may mean staying in a hospital while treatments are given, which might be necessary in any case if respiratory failure is occurring. Alternately, patients could have a procedure called plasmapheresis.

In plasmapheresis, blood is removed from the body and stripped of its plasma. It is then reintroduced into the body. The reason this treatment is considered for Miller Fisher syndrome is that removing blood plasma may strip the body of certain antibodies that are creating the nerve damage. This may help promote recovery.

For many, the symptoms of this condition are short-lived and people make complete recoveries in about a month. Some people will get better sooner, but some can have nerve damage that lasts for as long as six months, or that continues when the disease is gone. A high percentage of those who get this illness make a full recovery.

As with Guillain-Barre, it’s not completely clear why or when Miller Fisher syndrome occurs. It can occur after certain illnesses and also occasionally after certain vaccinations, such as flu virus vaccines. Though the syndrome possesses these associations, risk of getting the condition from any disease or vaccination is tremendously small.


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