What is Guillain-Barré syndrome?
Guillain-Barré syndrome (say "ghee-YAN bah-RAY") is a problem with your
nervous system. It causes muscle weakness, loss of
reflexes, and numbness or tingling in your arms, legs, face, and other parts of
This rare condition can cause paralysis and
lead to death. But most people get better and have few lasting problems.
What causes Guillain-Barré syndrome?
know what causes it. They think that the nerves are attacked by your body's
own defense system (the immune system). This is called an
In Guillain-Barré syndrome, the immune
system attacks the covering (myelin sheath ) of certain nerves. This
causes nerve damage.
Infections that may trigger Guillain-Barré syndrome
It usually begins to affect the nerves after you've had a
bacterial infection. Often it is after an infection of
the lungs or stomach and intestines.
Infections that may trigger
- Campylobacter jejuni,
which can cause a type of food poisoning.
- MycoplasmaMycoplasma, which can cause pneumonia.
- Cytomegalovirus (CMV), which can cause fever, chills,
sore throat, swollen glands, body aches, and fatigue.
- Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which can cause mononucleosis (mono).
- Varicella-zoster virus, which can cause
What are the symptoms?
- Numbness or tingling in your hands and feet and sometimes
around the mouth and lips.
- Muscle weakness in your legs and arms
and the sides of your face.
- Trouble speaking, chewing, and
- Not being able to move your eyes.
Symptoms usually start with numbness or tingling in the
fingers and toes. Over several days, muscle weakness in the legs and arms
develops. After about 4 weeks, most people begin to get better.
You may need to be treated in the hospital for the first few weeks. This
is because the condition can be deadly if weakness spreads to muscles that control
breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.
Call your doctor or get help right away if you think you might have Guillain-Barré syndrome.
How is Guillain-Barré syndrome diagnosed?
doctor will ask when your symptoms started and how they have changed. He or she
also may ask if you've had any recent infections.
Two signs are
important in helping your doctor decide if you have Guillain-Barré syndrome:
- Your arms and legs are getting
- You are losing your
reflexes, which are automatic body movements that you
Your doctor also may do tests, such as a
lumbar puncture and a
nerve conduction study.
If the diagnosis
isn't clear, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in the nervous
How is it treated?
This syndrome usually is treated in the
hospital. The hospital staff will watch you carefully to be sure you don't get
worse or get an infection. Your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure are
carefully tracked. Some people need a ventilator to help them breathe.