Information for Patients
Also called: Acute idiopathic polyneuritis, Acute inflammatory polyneuropathy, Infectious polyneuritis, Landry-Guillain-Barre syndrome
Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare disorder that causes your immune system to attack your peripheral nervous system (PNS). The PNS nerves connect your brain and spinal cord with the rest of your body. Damage to these nerves makes it hard for them to transmit signals. As a result, your muscles have trouble responding to your brain. No one knows what causes the syndrome. Sometimes it is triggered by an infection, surgery, or a vaccination.
The first symptom is usually weakness or a tingling feeling in your legs. The feeling can spread to your upper body. In severe cases, you become almost paralyzed. This is life-threatening. You might need a respirator to breathe. Symptoms usually worsen over a period of weeks and then stabilize.
Guillain-Barre can be hard to diagnose. Possible tests include nerve tests and a spinal tap. Most people recover. Recovery can take a few weeks to a few years. Treatment can help symptoms, and may include medicines or a procedure called plasma exchange.
NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
- Cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) collection (Medical Encyclopedia)
- Guillain-Barre syndrome (Medical Encyclopedia)
Guillain-Barré syndrome Guillain-Barré syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that affects the nerves. Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system malfunctions and attacks the body's own tissues and organs. In Guillain-Barré syndrome, the immune response damages peripheral nerves, which are the nerves that connect the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) to the limbs and organs. Specifically, the immune response affects a particular part of peripheral nerves called axons, which are the extensions of nerve cells (neurons) that transmit nerve impulses. Guillain-Barré syndrome can affect the neurons that control muscle movement (motor neurons); the neurons that transmit sensory signals such as pain, temperature, and touch (sensory neurons); or both. As a result, affected individuals can experience muscle weakness or lose the ability to feel certain sensations.Muscle weakness or paralysis are the characteristic features of Guillain-Barré syndrome. The weakness often begins in the legs and spreads to the arms, torso, and face and is commonly accompanied by numbness, tingling, or pain. Additional signs and symptoms of the condition include difficulty swallowing and difficulty breathing. Occasionally, the nerves that control involuntary functions of the body such as blood pressure and heart rate are affected, which can lead to fluctuating blood pressure or an abnormal heartbeat (cardiac arrhythmia).There are several types of Guillain-Barré syndrome, classified by the part of the peripheral nerve involved in the condition. The most common type of Guillain-Barré syndrome is acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (AIDP). In AIDP, the immune response damages myelin, which is the covering that protects axons and promotes the efficient transmission of nerve impulses. In two other types of Guillain-Barré syndrome, acute motor axonal neuropathy (AMAN) and acute motor-sensory axonal neuropathy (AMSAN), the axons themselves are damaged by the immune response. In AMAN, only the axons of motor neurons are damaged. In AMSAN, the axons of sensory neurons are also damaged. Because of sensory nerve damage, affected individuals can lose the ability to sense the position of their limbs and can have abnormal or absent reflexes (areflexia).Miller Fisher syndrome, another type of Guillain-Barré syndrome, involves cranial nerves, which extend from the brain to various areas of the head and neck. Miller Fisher syndrome is characterized by three features: weakness or paralysis of the muscles that move the eyes (ophthalmoplegia), problems with balance and coordination (ataxia), and areflexia. People with this condition can have other signs and symptoms common in Guillain-Barré syndrome, such as muscle weakness.Guillain-Barré syndrome occurs in people of all ages. The development of the condition usually follows a pattern. Prior to developing the condition, most people with Guillain-Barré syndrome have a bacterial or viral infection. The first phase of Guillain-Barré syndrome, during which signs and symptoms of the condition worsen, can last up to four weeks, although the peak of the illness is usually reached in one to two weeks. During the second phase, called the plateau, signs and symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome stabilize. This phase can last weeks or months. During the recovery phase, symptoms improve. However, some people with Guillain-Barré syndrome never fully recover and can still experience excessive tiredness (fatigue), muscle weakness, or muscle pain.