Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare problem that causes the immune system to attack the nerves. This results in muscle weakness. It can range from mild to life-threatening. Most people will get better.
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The exact cause is not known. In some people, it is triggered by a recent infection.
Guillain-Barré syndrome is more common in men. The risk gets higher with age. Other things that may raise the risk are:
- Recent infection
- Stress-related disorder
- Recent vaccination (rare)
Problems may happen over hours, days, or weeks. They get worse over time. Problems may be:
- Weakness and tingling in the legs, arms, and face
- Pain in the legs or back
- Problems walking or climbing stairs
- Problems breathing
- Eyesight problems
- Problems swallowing, speaking, or chewing
- Problems passing urine (peeing)
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. This is often enough to diagnose Guillain-Barre syndrome. These tests may be done to support it:
- Lumbar puncture—to test the fluid that protects the brain and spinal cord
- Nerve conduction and electromyography studies
- Lung function tests
The goal is to manage symptoms and help speed healing. Hospital care will be needed to watch for things like breathing and heart problems. Most people get better, but others may have lasting problems.
Treatment options are:
IV Immunoglobulin Therapy (IVIG)
Immunoglobulins are proteins in the blood that fight infections. IVIG uses an IV to give a person proteins donated from a healthy person.
Plasmapheresis removes blood from the body and passes it through a machine that separates blood cells. The cells are then returned to the body with new plasma. This may help a person get better faster.
Physical and occupational therapy may be needed. It can help a person with strength and motion. It can also help a person learn how to do daily tasks again.
There are no guidelines to prevent this problem. However, flu vaccines may not be advised for:
- People who had Guillain-Barre syndrome within 6 months of a flu vaccine, AND
- Who are not at high risk for severe problems from the flu
This may help reduce their risk.
- Donofrio PD. Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Continuum (Minneap Minn). 2017 Oct;23(5, Peripheral Nerve and Motor Neuron Disorders):1295-1309.
- Guillain-Barre syndrome. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/campylobacter/guillain-barre.html.
- Guillain-Barre syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/guillain-barre-syndrome.
- Guillain-Barre syndrome fact sheet. National Institute of Neurologica Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/guillain-barre-syndrome-fact-sheet?search-term=Guillain-Barre.