Main AHCA Website

AHCA’s main website for information on Medicaid, Health Quality Assurance and the Florida Center for Health Information and Policy Analysis.

Go >

Florida Health Information Network

This website provides information and resources relating to AHCA’s initiatives for Health Information Technology and Health Information Exchange.

Go >


FloridaHealthFinder.gov

Provides health education and information to compare and locate health care providers in Florida to make well-informed health care decisions.

Go >
AHCA Network of Websites

Health Education


Health Encyclopedia

Search the Health Encyclopedia

Guillain-Barré syndrome

Definition

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a serious health problem that occurs when the body's defense (immune) system mistakenly attacks part of the nervous system. This leads to nerve inflammation that causes muscle weakness or paralysis and other symptoms.

Alternative Names

GBS; Landry-Guillain-Barré syndrome; Acute idiopathic polyneuritis; Infectious polyneuritis; Acute inflammatory polyneuropathy; Acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy; Ascending paralysis

Causes

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is an autoimmune disorder. With an autoimmune disorder, the body's immune system attacks itself by mistake. The exact cause of GBS is unknown. It can occur at any age. It is most common in people of both genders between ages 30 and 50.

GBS may occur with infections from viruses or bacteria, such as:

  • Influenza
  • Some gastrointestinal illnesses
  • Mycoplasma pneumonia
  • HIV, the virus that causes AIDS (very rare)
  • Herpes simplex
  • Mononucleosis

GBS may also occur with other medical conditions, such as:

GBS damages parts of nerves. This nerve damage causes tingling, muscle weakness, and paralysis. GBS most often affects the nerve covering (myelin sheath). This damage is called demyelination. It causes nerve signals to move more slowly. Damage to other parts of the nerve can cause the nerve to stop working.

Symptoms

Symptoms of GBS can get worse quickly. It may take only a few hours for the most severe symptoms to appear. But weakness that increases over several days is also common.

Muscle weakness or loss of muscle function (paralysis) affects both sides of the body. In most cases, the muscle weakness starts in the legs and spreads to the arms. This is called ascending paralysis.

If the inflammation affects the nerves of the chest and diaphragm (the large muscle under your lungs that helps you breathe) and those muscles are weak, you may need breathing assistance.

Other typical signs and symptoms of GBS include:

  • Loss of tendon reflexes in the arms and legs
  • Tingling or numbness (mild loss of sensation)
  • Muscle tenderness or pain (may be a cramp-like pain)
  • Uncoordinated movement (cannot walk without help)
  • Low blood pressure or poor blood pressure control
  • Abnormal heart rate

Other symptoms may include:

  • Blurred vision and double vision
  • Clumsiness and falling
  • Difficulty moving face muscles
  • Muscle contractions
  • Feeling the heart beat (palpitations)

Emergency symptoms (seek medical help right away):

  • Breathing temporarily stops
  • Cannot take a deep breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Drooling
  • Fainting
  • Feeling light-headed when standing

Exams and Tests

A history of increasing muscle weakness and paralysis may be a sign of GBS, especially if there was a recent illness.

A medical exam may show muscle weakness. There may also be problems with blood pressure and heart rate. These are functions that are controlled automatically by the nervous system. The exam may also show that reflexes such as the ankle or knee jerk are decreased or missing.

There may be signs of decreased breathing caused by paralysis of the breathing muscles.

The following tests may be done:

Treatment

There is no cure for GBS. Treatment is aimed at reducing symptoms, treating complications, and speeding up recovery.

In the early stages of the illness, a treatment called apheresis or plasmapheresis may be given. It involves removing or blocking the proteins, called antibodies, that attack the nerve cells. Another treatment is intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg). Both treatments lead to faster improvement, and both are equally effective. But there is no advantage to using both treatments at the same time. Other treatments help reduce inflammation.

When symptoms are severe, treatment in the hospital will be needed. Breathing support will likely be given.

Other treatments in the hospital focus on preventing complications. These may include:

  • Blood thinners to prevent blood clots
  • Breathing support or a breathing tube and ventilator, if the diaphragm is weak
  • Pain medicines or other medicines to treat pain
  • Proper body positioning or a feeding tube to prevent choking during feeding, if the muscles used for swallowing are weak
  • Physical therapy to help keep joints and muscles healthy

Support Groups

Guillain-Barré Syndrome Foundation International -- www.gbs-cidp.org

Outlook (Prognosis)

Recovery can take weeks, months, or years. Most people survive and recover completely. In some people, mild weakness may persist. The outcome is likely to be good when the symptoms go away within 3 weeks after they first started.

Possible complications of GBS include:

  • Breathing difficulty (respiratory failure)
  • Shortening of tissues in the joints (contractures) or other deformities
  • Blood clots (deep vein thrombosis) that form when the person with GBS is inactive or has to stay in bed
  • Increased risk of infections
  • Low or unstable blood pressure
  • Paralysis that is permanent
  • Pneumonia
  • Skin damage (ulcers)
  • Breathing food or fluids into the lungs

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Seek medical help right away if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Trouble taking a deep breath
  • Decreased feeling (sensation)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fainting
  • Loss of strength in the legs that gets worse over time

References

Katri B, Koontz D. Disorders of the peripheral nerves. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 76.

Mittal MK, Wijdicks EFM. Muscular paralysis. In: Parrillo JE, Delinger RP, eds. Critical Care Medicine: Principles of Diagnosis and Management in the Adult. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 64.

Walling AD, Dickson G. Guillain-Barre syndrome. Am Fam Physician. 2013;87:191-197.

Review Date:6/1/2015
Reviewed By:Daniel Kantor, MD, Kantor Neurology, Coconut Creek, FL and Immediate Past President of the Florida Society of Neurology (FSN). Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997-A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

adam.com

The Agency for Health Care Administration (Agency) and this website do not claim the information on, or referred to by, this site is error free. This site may include links to websites of other government agencies or private groups. Our Agency and this website do not control such sites and are not responsible for their content. Reference to or links to any other group, product, service, or information does not mean our Agency or this website approves of that group, product, service, or information.

Additionally, while health information provided through this website may be a valuable resource for the public, it is not designed to offer medical advice. Talk with your doctor about medical care questions you may have.

Health
Outcome Data

No data available for this condition/procedure.

Health Encyclopedia

More Features

We Appreciate Your Feedback
1. Did you find this information useful?
         Yes
         No

2. Would you recommend this website to family and friends?
         Yes
         No