What Is Guillain Barré Syndrome?

This syndrome is a rare disorder which can occur in people assigned either male or female at birth. Although there is no known cure for this disorder yet, it can be treated and managed within weeks to years as the symptoms manifest. In severe cases, it could be a medical emergency.

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a rare neurological disorder in which part of the peripheral nervous system is attacked by the immune system mistakenly.1 Research shows that there are cases where Guillain-Barre syndrome recovers completely, while some severe cases can be fatal. While recovery may take up to several years, most people can walk again six months after symptoms first start. 

Though Guillain-Barre syndrome cannot be prevented, there are ways to manage and recover from it. Read on to learn more about Guillain-Barre syndrome, its causes and symptoms, etc. 


Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) is an autoimmune disorder. Normally, your immune system only fights foreign invaders such as viruses or bacteria.2 In GBS, the immune system specifically attacks the nerves of the feet, hands and limbs (which allows you to control your muscles and makes you aware of what is going on in your environment) which results in symptoms such as muscle weakness and tingling or numbness. 

This syndrome can be found potentially in anyone but is more commonly found in older people and people assigned male at birth. Studies show that about 3,000 to 6,000 people develop the disease every year in the United States. Research has shown that GBS is neither contagious nor passed down through families.

Causes of guillain barré syndrome

Guillain-Barré syndrome, according to the World Health Organization, is often anticipated by the following:2

  1. An infection could be a bacterial or viral infection. The immune system can get confused when viral or bacterial components (proteins) look similar to the body’s proteins (which rarely happens) and start to attack the body's nerves, which can result in GBS
  2. Triggered by vaccine administration
  3. Surgery

Signs and symptoms of guillain barré syndrome

Guillain-Barre syndrome symptoms vary but often begin with weakness of the legs which spreads to your upper body, and tingliness.1,3, Sometimes the first symptoms appear in the face which can lead to diplopias, facial droop, dysarthria, dysphagia, ophthalmoplegia or pupillary disturbances, and in the arms. As Guillain-Barre syndrome progresses, muscle weakness can turn into paralysis. 

Other signs and symptoms that may be seen are:

  • Difficulty with eye muscles, and vision
  • Difficulty swallowing, speaking, or chewing
  • Pricking or pins and needles sensations in the hands and feet
  • Severe body pain, particularly at night
  • Coordination problems and unsteadiness
  • Abnormal heartbeat rate 
  • Abnormal blood pressure
  • Problems with digestion
  • Problems with bladder control

Management and treatment for guillain barré syndrome

Guillain-Barre syndrome is potentially life-threatening and patients are treated in the hospital with main treatments,4,5 as studies have shown, that consist of:

  • Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) which is made from donated blood and helps to bring the immune system under control
  • Plasma exchange is also known as plasmapheresis. A machine is used to remove or filter any harmful substances that can cause an attack on the nerves
  • Painkillers are used as a treatment to alleviate symptoms
  • Other treatments are given to support body functions such as feeding tubes or breathing machines


  • Intensive care unit: Patients exhibiting clinical signs of respiratory compromise to any degree should be admitted to an ICU to receive the following features: respiratory therapy, cardiac monitoring, safe nutritional supplementation, monitoring for infectious complications such as pneumonia, urinary tract infections, septicemia, etc 
  • Immunomodulation: Immunomodulatory treatment in GBS has been used to hasten recovery
  • Occupational therapy: This should be involved early to promote positioning, posture, upper body strengthening, range of motion (ROM), and activities that aid functional self-care
  • Physical therapy
  • Speech therapy is also needed to promote speech and safe swallowing skills for patients 

Most patients require to stay in the hospital for a few weeks to a few months.


How is guillain barré syndrome diagnosed?

Guillain-barré syndrome is diagnosed based on symptoms and neurological examination findings. A lumbar puncture and blood tests may be done for supportive information.3,6

How can I prevent guillain barré syndrome?

Studies show that there is no known way to prevent this syndrome.

Who are at risk of guillain barré syndrome?

GBS can be developed by anyone, but the people who are at greater risk of developing it are people who are older than 50. Research shows that about two-thirds of people with GBS were sick for days or weeks with diarrhoea or respiratory illness before developing symptoms. 

How common is guillain barré syndrome?

Guillain-barré syndrome is not common. It happens on rare occasions after vaccination or infection.

When should I see a doctor?

A healthcare provider or family doctor should be contacted if any symptoms mentioned above are noticed so that the symptoms do not spread or get worse. 


Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a potentially life-threatening disorder, is a rare disorder where the body’s immune system damages nerves. GBS patients should be hospitalized so that the patients with this syndrome can be monitored closely.


  1. Nguyen TP, Taylor RS. Guillain-barre syndrome. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 [cited 2023 Oct 4]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532254/
  2. Pritchard J. Guillain-Barré syndrome. Clin Med (Lond) [Internet]. 2010 Aug [cited 2023 Oct 4];10(4):399–401. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4952175/
  3. Leonhard SE, Mandarakas MR, Gondim FAA, Bateman K, Ferreira MLB, Cornblath DR, et al. Diagnosis and management of Guillain–Barré syndrome in ten steps. Nat Rev Neurol [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2023 Oct 4];15(11):671–83. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6821638/
  4. Harms M. Inpatient management of guillain-barré syndrome. Neurohospitalist [Internet]. 2011 Apr [cited 2023 Oct 4];1(2):78–84. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3726082/
  5. Marcus R. What is guillain-barré syndrome? JAMA [Internet]. 2023 Feb 21 [cited 2023 Oct 4];329(7):602. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2022.24232
  6. Willison HJ, Jacobs BC, Van Doorn PA. Guillain-Barré syndrome. The Lancet [Internet]. 2016 Aug [cited 2023 Oct 4];388(10045):717–27. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0140673616003391
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Ajayi Anjolaoluwa

Bachelor of Science - BS, Medical Physiology, Bowen University, Nigeria

Anjolaoluwa is a physiology graduate and currently works as a medical evaluator. She is passionate and dedicated to educate the society and empower them with knowledge to take control of their health through research and medical writing. And also educating the public about current advancements in medicine.

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