What is Guillain-Barré syndrome?
Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare disorder
that causes your body's immune system to attack your nerves.
Muscle weakness, tingling, and sometimes paralysis result
from this attack on the nerves.
Another term for Guillain-Barré syndrome is
acute ascending polyneuritis.
How does it occur?
No one knows for sure how Guillain-Barré
occurs. Usually it happens after a viral infection, such as
a cold or flu. It has also occurred after infection with a
type of bacteria called Campylobacter. Infection with
Campylobacter may happen after you drink contaminated water
or eat inadequately cooked food, especially poultry.
Sometimes Guillain-Barré occurs after
surgery or a shot. In some cases there does not seem to be
any trigger. All that is known for sure is that something
causes the body's immune system to malfunction.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome
usually begin in the legs with tingling and weakness. You
may have some numbness. The symptoms often move up the body
during the next few days or weeks, and the arms and upper
body begin to have weakness and tingling. Sometimes the
weakness worsens so much that you can't move at all. You may
become almost completely paralyzed.
How is it diagnosed?
Your health care provider will ask about
your symptoms and examine you. Tests you may have are:
How is it treated?
There is no treatment that cures
Guillain-Barré syndrome, but there are treatments that
sometimes make the symptoms better:
Immunoglobulin therapy: You have
injections of the proteins that the immune system uses
to attack invading organisms.
Plasmapheresis: Blood is withdrawn from
you and processed so that the red and white blood cells
are separated from the plasma, or liquid portion of the
blood. The blood cells are then returned to you without
the plasma. Your body then quickly makes new plasma.
You will probably need to stay in the
hospital so you can be watched closely for possibly
life-threatening symptoms. If the muscles that allow you to
breathe are affected, you may need a machine to help you
breathe until the symptoms improve. The most important thing
is to watch you closely and try to prevent complications
such as pneumonia and blood clots while you wait for your
condition to improve.
You may have physical therapy even before
you start to recover to help keep your muscles flexible and
How long will the effects last?
Usually people with Guillain-Barré syndrome
recover, but it can take a long time. For most people the
weakness gets worse for 2 or 3 weeks and then starts getting
better and, after a time, goes away completely. Some people
have weakness for months, and a few have it for years. Some
never get all of their strength back. Sometimes the syndrome
comes back many years after the first attack.
How can I take care of myself?
Consider getting some psychological
counseling as you recover. Being paralyzed and dependent
on others for help with routine activities can be very
difficult emotionally, as well as physically. It is very
hard to be able to hear and think, but not able to move
or respond. Counseling may help you adapt while you are
How can I help prevent Guillain-Barré
Guillain-Barré isn't contagious. It can't be
spread from one person to another. There doesn't seem to be
anything in particular that you can do to avoid getting it
or having it again.
Where can I get more information about
Guillain-Barré Syndrome Foundation
PO Box 262
Wynnewood, PA 19096
National Institutes of Health Web site for
The National Institute of Neurological
Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) conducts and supports a wide
range of research on neurological disorders, including
Guillain-Barré syndrome. For information on neurological
disorders or research programs funded by the NINDS, contact
the institute's Brain Resources and Information Network
PO Box 5801
Bethesda, Maryland 20824