Guillain-Barré Syndrome

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What is Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)?

Guillain-Barré (Ghee-YAN Bah-RAY) syndrome (GBS) happens when a person’s own immune system harms their body’s nerves. This harm causes muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis.

What are the symptoms of GBS?

Early symptoms of GBS include weakness and tingling. People with GBS usually first feel these symptoms in both legs. Some people then have weakness and tingling in their arms and upper body.

The weakness can increase until people cannot use some muscles. In severe cases, people can become paralyzed.

Symptoms can progress over hours, days, or weeks. But most people start to recover 2 to 3 weeks after symptoms first start. Recovery may take as little as a few weeks or as long as a few years. Most people recover fully, but some have permanent nerve damage. Some people have died from GBS.

What causes GBS?

Several things can lead to GBS. These things include

  • Diarrhea or a respiratory illness: About 2 in every 3 people with GBS had diarrhea or a respiratory illness several weeks before developing GBS symptoms.
  • Viral infections: Some people with GBS had the flu or infections with cytomegalovirus, Epstein Barr virus, Zika virus, or other viruses.
  • Vaccination: Very rarely people have developed GBS in the days or weeks after getting certain vaccines. However, benefits of vaccination far outweigh risks. For example, studies show that people have a greater chance of getting GBS after getting the flu than they do after getting vaccinated against the flu.

Infection with Campylobacter jejuni, which causes diarrhea, is one of the most common causes of GBS.

  • About 1 in every 1,000 people with Campylobacter infection in the United States gets GBS.
  • At least 1 in every 20 – and as many as 8 in every 20 – people with GBS in the United States had a recent Campylobacter infection.

How common is GBS?

GBS is rare. CDC estimates that only about 3,000 to 6,000 people develop GBS each year in the United States.

Who is at risk for developing GBS?

Anyone can develop GBS. However, in the United States, it is more common in men and adults older than 50.

Do outbreaks of GBS occur?

GBS is not contagious and outbreaks of GBS are very rare. An outbreak of GBS can happen if more than one person in an outbreak, such as an outbreak of Campylobacter infections, develops GBS. Learn about an outbreak of GBS that spanned an international border.

How is GBS treated?

Common treatments include the following:

  • Plasma exchange (a procedure that removes and replaces the liquid part of the blood)
  • High-dose immunoglobulin therapy (an infusion of antibodies)

How can I find out more about GBS, including diagnosis and treatment?

Learn more about GBS:

  • Talk to your doctor or health care provider
  • Read the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke’s Guillain-Barré Fact Sheet