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Guillain-Barré Syndrome

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Guillain-Barré Syndrome

Condition Basics

What is Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)?

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a rare nerve problem. It occurs when the body's immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. This makes your muscles weak. It can happen after a viral or bacterial infection. GBS can be deadly. But with treatment, most people recover over time.

What are the symptoms?

GBS often starts with muscle weakness in the legs and arms. It may cause numbness and tingling in the fingers and toes. The muscle weakness may soon get worse. You may have trouble moving your arms or legs. And it may become hard to breathe or swallow.

Call your doctor or get help right away if you think you might have Guillain-Barré syndrome.

How is it diagnosed?

GBS can be hard to diagnose. Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask about your symptoms and your past health. A spinal tap (lumbar puncture) may be done to take a sample of your spinal fluid. You may also have other tests, such as an electromyogram or nerve conduction studies.

How is GBS treated?

GBS is treated in the hospital. You may get intravenous immune globulin (IVIG) or a plasma exchange. These treatments are called immunotherapy.

  • In IVIG, helpful antibodies are added to your blood.
  • In a plasma exchange, blood is taken out of your body. The harmful antibodies are removed from the blood, and then the blood is returned to your body.

If you have severe muscle weakness, you may also have treatment to help you breathe, drink, and eat. You may need therapy to help you walk and talk again.

Most people get better with few lasting symptoms. But recovery may take months.


Current as of: May 1, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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