May 4, 2016
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Guillain-Barré Syndrome

Guillain-Barré facts

*Guillain-Barré facts Medically Edited by: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

  • Guillain-Barré syndrome occurs when the immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system, leading to weakness or tingling in the legs. Symptoms sometimes affect the arms and upper body. Severe cases of Guillain-Barré can lead to paralysis and are life-threatening.
  • Guillain-Barré is a very rare condition that afflicts about one person out of 100,000. The condition often manifests after a respiratory or gastrointestinal viral infection. Surgery or vaccines may also trigger Guillain-Barré.
  • The autoimmune reaction in Guillain-Barré is directed against the myelin sheaths that surround the axons of peripheral nerves or the axons (parts of the nerve) themselves. The greatest point of weakness or paralysis can occur days or weeks after the first symptoms occur.
  • Because the signs and symptoms of Guillain-Barré vary, it can be difficult to diagnose the condition in the early stages. A physical exam as well as an examination of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) obtained from a spinal tap may help aid diagnosis.
  • Treatment of Guillain-Barré syndrome may include plasma exchange (plasmapheresis) and high-dose immunoglobulin therapy. A respirator may be used if the patient requires assistance to breathe. Physical therapy can begin after the patient recovers limb control.
  • The recovery period after a bout of Guillain-Barré may be as little as a few weeks or as long as a few years. About 30% of those with Guillain-Barré may suffer from residual weakness after 3 years.
  • Ongoing research seeks to identify the cause of Guillain-Barré and develop new and better treatments. Since many cases begin after a viral or bacterial infection, researchers are trying to identify how characteristics of these pathogens may be involved in the development of the condition.


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