What is Guillain Barré Syndrome?

This page contains a simplified explanation of Guillain-Barré syndrome. For more information visit the links at the bottom and consult your physician for the latest medical advice.

What is Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

In Guillain-Barré syndrome, the immune system confuses parts of the nervous system for foreign material that doesn't belong in the body. The immune system then responds by attacking these parts. 


Weakness and tingling sensations that originate in the legs and arms gradually spread around the body. Other possible symptoms include pain/muscle aches, numbness, and trouble breathing. The degree of, and time it takes for symptoms to manifest are different from case to case. In cases that are more severe, near complete paralysis is possible. Guillain-Barré syndrome can be fatal if it affects breathing, heart rate, blood pressure or if it causes deep vein thrombosis. This website provides more information on each of these risks, and provides recommendations for dealing with them: http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/fullarticle/789059

Does GBS target children?

GBS can affect anyone at any age. It is extremely rare, affecting between 6,000 to 9,000 people in the U.S. each year.

How is it Treated:

Normally Guillain-Barré syndrome stops by itself. There are no known cures, but there are treatments to speed recovery including plasma exchange and immunoglobulin therapy. Plasma exchange involves removing blood from the body, separating the plasma or liquid portion of the blood from the cells, and then returning only the cells. In immunoglobulin, therapy patients receive shots of immunoglobulins.

What are the Long-Term Effects?

There is a very small chance of fatality or incomplete recovery, however the majority of children diagnosed with GBS experience a full recovery with no further complications. In fact, the Dr. Marc DiFazio reports that the "outcome of GBS is more favorable in children than in adults". See his writings at: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1180594-overview)

Recovery often begins within a few weeks after the onset of symptoms but full recovery can take months.

What causes it?

Doctors and researchers are still not sure of the cause of GBS. Research indicates that it is often triggered by a viral or bacterial infection that you might have just beforehand. See: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1180594-overview

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