What is GBS?
Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is muscle weakness that happens over a few days or a few weeks.
GBS is probably caused by an autoimmune reaction Autoimmune Diseases The immune system is your body's defense system. It helps protect you from illness and infection. The immune system usually attacks invading bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. With an autoimmune... read more (when your body's immune system attacks parts of your own body)
It's often triggered by a minor infection
Usually, weakness and abnormal sensations begin in both legs and move up your body
A few people get so weak they have trouble breathing
Doctors put you in the hospital and give you medicine to slow down your immune system
It usually gets better on its own in a few months, but some people are weak for a long time
What causes GBS?
Most people get GBS several days to a few weeks after having:
A minor illness such as stomach flu or a cold
Doctors think that you get GBS when your immune system attacks your nerves so they can’t send messages normally. GBS mainly attacks nerves that control muscle movement and sensation. Rarely, it attacks nerves that control your blood pressure and your heart and other organs.
What are the symptoms of GBS?
Weakness or pins-and-needles feeling that starts in your legs and moves upward
Trouble feeling things (loss of sensation)
Sometimes, trouble breathing, chewing, swallowing, or speaking
Weakness caused by GBS usually gets worse over 3 to 4 weeks, then remains the same or starts to get better.
In severe cases, symptoms may include:
Blood pressure problems
Abnormal heart rhythm
Not being able to urinate (pee)
Constipation (trouble passing stool)
How can doctors tell if I have GBS?
Doctors do tests to diagnose GBS, such as:
Electromyography Electromyography (EMG) and Nerve Conduction Studies Your brain tells your muscles what to do by sending electrical signals to them. The signals travel down your spinal cord and then through different nerves to your muscles. EMG and nerve conduction... read more (a muscle test that uses small needles to record the electrical activity of your muscles)
Spinal tap Spinal Tap Spinal fluid is a liquid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord. Spinal fluid helps cushion your brain if you hit your head or fall. Spinal fluid moves freely around your brain and spinal... read more (doctors use a long needle to get spinal fluid from your lower back)
How do doctors treat GBS?
Doctors will care for you in the hospital because you may develop life-threatening breathing problems very quickly. Treatment should start as soon as possible. It may include:
Immune globulin given by vein (medicine that contains helpful antibodies that can block antibodies that are damaging your nerves)
Plasma exchange (a process that filters your blood to take out the antibodies attacking your nerves)
If your breathing gets weak, doctors may:
Put a tube down your throat into your lungs and attach it to a breathing machine (ventilator)
It may take a long time to recover from GBS. Most people recover within a year, but some people take longer and never completely gain back their muscle strength.