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Guillain-barre Syndrome


What is Guillain-Barre syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) is a disorder that results in inflammation and damage to the nerves in your body. This may cause mild symptoms such a muscle weakness, or more serious symptoms, such as paralysis.

What causes GBS?

It is not known for sure what causes GBS. Often people get GBS after having a cold or the flu. You may also get it after you receive a vaccination or surgery. These conditions may trigger your immune system to attack itself by mistake. You cannot catch GBS by being around someone who has it.

What are the signs and symptoms of GBS?

Symptoms may begin quickly, be severe or life-threatening, and may take months to go away. You may have one or more of the following:

  • Tingling or loss of feeling in parts of your body
  • Muscle pain or difficulty moving your legs, arm, or face
  • Constipation or difficulty controlling your urine or bowel movements
  • Blurred vision or dizziness
  • Heart palpitations (your heart pounds or misses beats)
  • Dusky, pale, or blue fingernails
  • Drooling, trouble swallowing, or shortness of breath
  • Fainting or difficulty thinking
  • Sudden paralysis

How is GBS diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you, and ask about other health conditions you may have. He will do a neurologic exam and check your reflexes and how your pupils react to light. They may check your memory, hand grasp, and balance.

  • Blood and urine tests: A sample of your blood or urine may be sent to a lab to help find the cause of your symptoms. They may also be used to make sure organs, such as your liver and kidneys, are working correctly.
  • Lumbar puncture: This procedure is also called a spinal tap. Healthcare providers will give you medicine to numb a small area of your lower back. They will insert a needle and remove fluid from around your spinal cord. The fluid will be sent to a lab to be tested for cause of your symptoms.
  • An electromyography (EMG) test measures the electrical activity of your muscles at rest and with movement.
  • Nerve conduction studies: This test measures how your nerves respond to stimulation. Electrodes (wires) are placed on affected areas of your body. They send electrical currents into the nerve to see how quickly it responds.

How is GBS treated?

There is no cure for GBS. Treatment will depend on your symptoms:

  • Medicines:
    • Immune globulins: This medicine can help decrease your symptoms by decreasing damage to your nerves.
    • Blood thinners: This medicine helps prevent clots from forming in the blood. Clots can cause strokes, heart attacks, and death. Blood thinners make it more likely for you to bleed or bruise. Use an electric razor and soft toothbrush to help prevent bleeding.
    • Heart medicine: This medicine may be given to help your heart beat more regularly.
    • Pain medicine: You may be given a prescription medicine to decrease pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take this medicine.
    • Stool softeners: This medicine may help soften your bowel movements, decrease straining, and prevent constipation.
  • Plasmapheresis: This procedure removes antibodies from your blood. Some of your blood will be removed through an IV. The blood is then put in a machine that spins and separates the red blood cells from the antibodies. The cleaned blood is then put back in your body through the IV.
  • Plasma exchange: This is a procedure that removes part of the blood, called plasma, and replaces it with other fluids.
  • Ventilator: This is a machine is used to help you breathe.

What are the risks of GBS?

GBS may lead to breathing problems and choking. GBS may lead to other health problems and may increase your risk for blood clots. Even after you have recovered from GBS, you may still have mild weakness. Without treatment, GBS may be life-threatening.

Where can I find more information?

  • Guillain-Barré Syndrome Foundation International
    P.O. Box 262
    Wynnewood , PA 19096
    Phone: 1- 610 - 667-0131
    Web Address:

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have new or worsening skin sores.
  • You have changes in your vision.
  • You have swollen or tender calves.
  • You cannot have a bowel movement, or it becomes more difficult.
  • You have redness, a rash, or swelling of your skin.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have drooling or difficulty swallowing.
  • You faint or cannot think clearly.
  • Your lips or fingernails turn pale, dusky, or blue.
  • You have shortness of breath.
  • You become unable to move a part of your body.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2017 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.