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Guillain-Barré syndrome

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a disorder where your body's immune system attacks the covering of certain nerves (called myelin sheath). This causes damage to the nerves.

There are four types of Guillain-Barré syndrome:

Causes of Guillain-Barré syndrome

Doctors don't know the exact causes of Guillain-Barré syndrome but think it may be started by:

Guillain-Barré syndrome isn't passed down from parent to child and you can't catch it or pass it on to someone else.

Symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome

Symptoms usually develop over hours or days and tend to start in your feet and hands before spreading to your arms and legs.

At first you may have:

These symptoms usually affect both sides of the body at the same time. They may continue to get worse over the next few days or weeks. They're usually at their worst within four weeks before gradually improving.

Some people are only mildly affected, but others may have:

A few people have severe symptoms, including their chest muscles being so weak that they need to be on a breathing machine (ventilator). They may be unable to swallow, so they need to be fed via a tube.

Diagnosing Guillain-Barré syndrome

Your doctor will ask when your symptoms started and how they have changed. They may ask if you've had any recent infections. Your doctor may also do tests, such as a lumbar puncture and a nerve conduction study (which measures how well and how quickly your nerves conduct electrical signals).

Treating Guillain-Barré syndrome

There's no cure for Guillain-Barré syndrome. It usually gets better slowly on its own over time, as the nerves repair themselves.

Other health professionals may be involved in your treatment:

Long‑term effects

Most people with Guillain-Barré syndrome make a full recovery in six to 12 months. But you may be in hospital for a few months. One or two in 10 people will be left with some degree of permanent problems, such as weakness, muscle wasting, difficulty walking or pain.

Managing fatigue and conserving energy are important during your recovery. Doing too much too early can delay your recovery.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created August 2023.


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