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Guillain–Barré syndrome

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare nerve disorder that occurs when the body's own defenses (immune system) attack part of the peripheral nervous system.

Symptoms usually start with numbness or tingling in the fingers and toes, followed by muscle weakness in the legs, arms, and other muscles that develops over a period of days to weeks and can progress to complete paralysis. Difficulties in breathing and swallowing can also develop. The cause of this disease is not known, but it often occurs after a viral or bacterial infection.

Guillain-Barré syndrome is treated with immunotherapy, which boosts the body's immune system and its ability to fight disease. Although this syndrome can be life-threatening, most people recover with few lasting problems.

  • Overview

    Guillain-Barré syndrome: Overview

    Guillain-Barré (pronounced “ghee-YAN bah-RAY”) syndrome is a nerve problem. You may have been ill or had an infection. While your body’s own defenses (immune system) were fighting off the illness, your nerves were damaged. Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) makes your muscles weak and leaves you feeling numb or tingly. Many people with GBS do not get worse than that. However, some people with GBS may not be able to move their limbs.

    Some people with GBS need to go into the hospital because the muscles become so weak that it may be hard to walk or breathe. If you cannot move at all, you may have treatment to help you breathe, drink, and eat.

    With time, you should start feeling stronger. However, it may be several months before you can return to your everyday activities. During that time you may need therapy to help you regain your ability to walk and talk. You may continue to feel tired even after you no longer have GBS.

  • When to Call

    Guillain-Barré syndrome: When to call

    Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

    • You lose the ability to move.
    • You have trouble breathing or swallowing.
    • You passed out (lost consciousness).

    Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

    • You do not get better as expected.
  • Self-Care

    How can you care for Guillain-Barré syndrome?

    • Rest as much as possible.
    • If you can, exercise daily to help strengthen your muscles.
    • Do physical therapy as directed by your doctor.
    • Ask your family and friends for help at home while you have GBS and are recovering. You may need help with some of your activities and chores.

    Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.