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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Guillain-Barré Syndrome - Topic Overview

How is Guillain-Barré syndrome diagnosed?

Your 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 weaker.
  • You are losing your reflexes, which are automatic body movements that you can't control.

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 system (neurologist).

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.

In the hospital, you may get a plasma exchange or intravenous immune globulin (IVIG).

  • In a plasma exchange, blood is taken out of your body. The harmful antibodies are removed from the blood, and then the blood is returned to your body.
  • In IVIG, helpful antibodies are added to your blood.

These treatments may help your body fight the disease and may speed your recovery if they are used when you first get sick. You may need to stay in the hospital for weeks or longer, until your symptoms have improved.

Sometimes this condition can come back. Both plasma exchange and IVIG therapy may be needed to reduce the severity of a relapse.

How long will it take to recover?

You may need 3 to 6 months or longer to recover. And you may have to wait several months before you can return to your regular activities.

Many people have long-term effects, such as numbness in the toes and fingers. In most cases, these problems won't get in the way of your daily life. Some people have more serious problems, such as long-term weakness or balance problems.

Support at home is important during this time. You may need some help with some of your activities and chores until you're stronger.

Regular exercise can help you strengthen your weakened muscles. Talk to your doctor about exercising during your recovery. If you have severe muscle weakness, you may need physical or occupational therapy.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: 2/, 014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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