What is Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)?

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a rare medical condition in which a person’s peripheral nerves are attacked by the immune system. If a person has GBS, the nerves cannot send signals to the body in efficient ways. GBS causes weakness in the muscles, a loss of reflexes, and numbness or tingling in parts of the body including the arms, legs, and face. The syndrome cannot be passed from one person to another.

What population is most likely to develop Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)?

The syndrome can appear in either sex at any age. It affects only about one in 100,000 people.

What causes Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)?

Experts are not sure of the cause of GBS. However, the following can make a person more likely to develop the syndrome:

  • Breathing-related illness.
  • Digestive system illness.
  • Infection with the bacterium Campylobacter jejuni (which can cause food poisoning).
  • The flu or other infections.
  • The varicella-zoster virus (virus that can cause shingles and chickenpox).
  • The Epstein-Barr virus.
  • Vaccinations (rare).
  • Surgeries.

What are the symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)?

The most severe symptoms take place as early as 2 weeks after the first signs appear.

Early symptoms:

  • Weakness or tingling in the legs.
  • Weakness or tingling spreading to the arms and upper body.
  • Increasing fatigue.
  • Loss of reflexes.

Later symptoms:

  • Complete paralysis of certain muscles.
  • Breathing or swallowing problems.
  • Blood pressure or heart rate problems.

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