What is Guillain-Barre?

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. The first symptoms of this disorder include varying degrees of weakness or tingling sensations in the legs. In many instances the symmetrical weakness and abnormal sensations spread to the arms and upper body. These symptoms can increase in intensity until muscles cannot be used at all and, when severe, the person is almost totally paralyzed. In these cases the disorder is life threatening – often interfering with breathing and, at times, with blood pressure or heart rate – and is considered a medical emergency. Such an individual is often put on a ventilator to assist with breathing and is monitored closely.

Guillain-Barré syndrome can affect anybody. It can strike at any age and both sexes are equally prone to the disorder. The syndrome is rare, however, afflicting only about one person in 100,000. Although there is not a known cause, Guillain-Barré sometimes occurs a few days or weeks after the patient has had symptoms of a viral infection, surgery, trauma, stress, etc that will trigger the syndrome. Recently, some countries have reported an increased incidence of GBS following infection with the Zika virus.  In rare instances vaccinations may increase the risk of GBS.

Most individuals have good recovery from even the most severe cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, although some continue to have a certain degree of weakness.

*From the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

For a further detailed description on GBS, please check out the article: What is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?