Guillain-Barré syndrome

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Also referred to as:

Infectious polyneuritis, acute inflammatory polyneuropathy, Landry-Guillain-Barré syndrome

What is it?
Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a disorder involving progressive muscle weakness or paralysis, usually after an infection – particularly a respiratory or gastrointestinal one. It is caused by inflammation of nerves and results in damage to the cover (myelin sheath) of the nerve. This damage causes the nerves to stop working effectively by slowing the messages carried to muscle and skin through the nerve. The symptoms of the disorder usually appear after the infection has gone and progress rapidly. These symptoms may include muscle weakness, paralysis, or spasms; numbness or tenderness; and blurred vision.

Tests
Patient history is important in diagnosis and may include a recent fever followed by muscle weakness and difficulty breathing. Investigations that may be performed include blood tests, lumbar puncture and muscle or nerve studies. A group of abnormal antibodies termed ‘anti-ganglioside antibodies’ may be present and may assist in the diagnosis of atypical cases.

Treatment
The disease usually subsides on its own, but if the symptoms are severe, the patient may require breathing assistance and other supportive treatments. Removing the blood plasma may also remove the antibodies which attack the nerves in this condition. Intravenous fluids or antibody-free plasma may be used to replace it in a process called plasma exchange. Immune globulins may be given to help reduce the severity and duration of the symptoms. Most people recover completely, but some may continue to have mild weakness or permanent loss of movement in the affected area.

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