Facts About Guillain-Barré Syndrome You Should Know About

Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) may be a rare condition but in the United States alone, around 3,000 to 6,000 people a year develop it. Based on the data provided by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, it may affect only 1 in every 100,000 Americans.

And although it’s more common in adult males (specifically those who are 50 years and older), anyone from both genders and all ages can suffer from GBS.

Why refer to GBS as “the monster within?”

In a nutshell, GBS is an autoimmune condition wherein your own immune system attacks your healthy peripheral nerve cells. How does this happen? No one’s sure exactly but it is often preceded by a viral or bacterial infection like the common cold or stomach flu. In extremely rare cases, other triggers include surgery and vaccination.

If you are perfectly healthy, your immune system will only attack what it regards as ‘threats.’ These may be in a form of invading microorganisms or other foreign materials. But with GBS, your antibodies themselves destroy the myelin sheath (a fatty white substance that forms a protective layer on the nerve cells) in your peripheral nerves. This, in turn, makes your nerves unable to transmit signals making it hard for your muscles to respond to the commands given by your brain.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome

Image Credit: thresnasuci

What are the signs and symptoms of GBS?

One of the first symptoms is a “pins and needles” sensation in your lower extremities like toes, feet, and legs. It can spread quickly in an ascending manner. Other manifestations include the following:

  • Weakness spreading to the arms and upper body which will only worsen over time and might lead to paralysis

  • Double vision

  • Difficulty in speaking or slurring of speech

  • Difficulty in swallowing

  • Shortness of breath

  • Lower back pain which will become more severe at night

  • Inability to walk steadily

  • Loss of bowel and bladder control

  • Low blood pressure

  • Loss of reflexes like the knee-jerk reflex

  • Numbness and pain

How is GBS diagnosed?

In its earliest stage, GBS is relatively hard to diagnose because the signs & symptoms aren’t the same in all cases. Moreover, some of the symptoms are also manifestations of other disorders.

Further assessment is necessary (such as checking whether weakness happens on both sides of the body) along with other diagnostic tests like:

  • Spinal tap. Also called lumbar puncture, the doctor will insert a needle into your lower back and take out some cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) sample. People with GBS usually have more protein in their CSF.

  • Nerve conduction exam. It begins with attaching electrodes to your skin. The nerve is then stimulated so the electrical activity can be recorded. This test confirms nerve damage and for people with GBS, the signals are significantly slower.

  • Electromyography. This can help assess the health and function of both the muscle and the nerves. Like the nerve conduction exam, electromyography also uses electrodes to detect the signals transmitted and also record the electrical activity.

How is GBS treated?

Even though the symptoms can be quite frightening, most people with GBS fully recover including those with severe cases. Recovery is even possible within a year. Mild cases might require the use of crutches for mobility. To reduce fatigue associated with using crutches, make sure that they are well padded and cushioned for your comfort. Close monitoring of GBS is essential because the disease can affect the respiratory system.


Unfortunately, there is no exact cure for GBS. The treatments target the relief and improvement of the symptoms and hasten the rate of recovery. The diagnostic exams should never delay the treatment because the treatment should start as early as possible.

  • Plasmapheresis. It’s also known as plasma exchange. The doctor will remove your whole blood which will undergo a process to separate the plasma from the other components. The blood cells are returned to the body which will quickly replace the plasma taken. Not only does this shorten the duration of GBS but it also reduces the severity of the condition along with the complications.

  • High-dose immunoglobulin therapy. This is indicated for those with weak or compromised immune system which is what makes it ideal for people with GBS. The immunoglobulin contains healthy antibodies taken from screened donors which will help in reducing the immune system’s attack on your own body.

  • Physical therapy. You will work with caregivers and physical therapists on a wide range of activities aimed at strengthening your muscles and helping you with personal care. At your weakest state, the caregiver will help move your limbs to keep them flexible and promote blood circulation.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome is devastating because it happens unexpectedly and progresses rapidly. You can experience great weakness even mere days after the first symptoms occur and diagnosis is not that easy. However, with the treatments mentioned above, it can usually help patients recover in a year or less.

Author Bio

Joe FlemingThis article has been written by Joseph Fleming. He is the co-founder Vive Health, LLC. Vive Health which provides highest quality health & medical products at a great value.

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