Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is an illness that can result in muscle weakness or loss of muscle function in parts of the body.
In people with Guillain-Barré syndrome (pronounced GHEE-yan ba-RAY), the body's own immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system.
The peripheral nervous system includes the nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord to the limbs. These nerves help control muscle movement.
Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 1 or 2 out of every 100,000 people develop GBS each year in the United States.
Anyone can get GBS, but the condition is more common in adults than in children, and more men than women are diagnosed with GBS each year.
Causes and Risk Factors
Doctors don't know what causes Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Many people with GBS report a bacterial or viral infection (such as the flu) days or weeks before GBS symptoms start.
Less common triggers for GBS may include:
Guillain-Barré syndrome is not contagious — it cannot spread from one person to another.
Types of GBS
There are several types of Guillain-Barré syndrome, which are characterized by what part of the nerve cell is damaged.
The most common type of GBS is called acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (AIDP).
In AIDP, the immune system mistakenly attacks the protective nerve covering that helps transmit nerve signals from the brain to other parts of the body.
Guillain-Barré Syndrome Symptoms
The first symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome often include feelings of tingling or weakness in the feet and legs. These feelings may spread to the arms and face.
The chest muscles can also be affected. Up to a quarter of people with GBS experience problems breathing.
In very severe cases, people with GBS may lose all muscle function and movement, becoming temporarily paralyzed.
Signs and symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome may include:
- Pricking or tingling "pins and needles" sensations in the fingers, toes, ankles, or wrists
- Muscle weakness that starts in the legs and spreads to the upper body
- Unsteady walking
- Difficulty with eye or facial movements (blinking, chewing, speaking)
- Difficulty controlling the bowels or bladder
- Rapid heart rate
- Difficulty breathing