Guillain-Barre (gee-YAH-buh-RAY) syndrome is a rare disorder in which your body's immune system attacks your nerves. Weakness and tingling in your extremities are usually the first symptoms.
These sensations can quickly spread, eventually paralyzing your whole body. In its most severe form Guillain-Barre syndrome is a medical emergency. Most people with the condition must be hospitalized to receive treatment.
The exact cause of Guillain-Barre syndrome is unknown. But it is often preceded by an infectious illness such as a respiratory infection or the stomach flu.
There's no known cure for Guillain-Barre syndrome, but several treatments can ease symptoms and reduce the duration of the illness. Most people recover from Guillain-Barre syndrome, though some may experience lingering effects from it, such as weakness, numbness or fatigue.
Guillain-Barre syndrome often begins with tingling and weakness starting in your feet and legs and spreading to your upper body and arms. In about half of people with the disorder, symptoms begin in the arms or face. As Guillain-Barre syndrome progresses, muscle weakness can evolve into paralysis.
Signs and symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome may include:
People with Guillain-Barre syndrome usually experience their most significant weakness within two to four weeks after symptoms begin.
Once thought to be a single disorder, Guillain-Barre syndrome is now known to occur in several forms. The main types are:
Call your doctor if you have mild tingling in your toes or fingers that doesn't seem to be spreading or getting worse. Seek emergency medical help if you have any of these severe signs or symptoms:
Guillain-Barre syndrome is a serious condition that requires immediate hospitalization because it can worsen rapidly. The sooner appropriate treatment is started, the better the chance of a good outcome.
The exact cause of Guillain-Barre syndrome isn't known. The disorder usually appears days or weeks after a respiratory or digestive tract infection. Rarely, recent surgery or immunization can trigger Guillain-Barre syndrome. Recently, there have been a few cases reported following infection with the Zika virus.
In Guillain-Barre syndrome, your immune system â which usually attacks only invading organisms â begins attacking the nerves. In AIDP, the most common form of Guillain-Barre syndrome in the U.S., the nerves' protective covering (myelin sheath) is damaged. The damage prevents nerves from transmitting signals to your brain, causing weakness, numbness or paralysis.
Guillain-Barre syndrome can be difficult to diagnose in its earliest stages. Its signs and symptoms are similar to those of other neurological disorders and may vary from person to person.
Your doctor is likely to start with a medical history and thorough physical examination.
Your doctor may then recommend:
Guillain-Barre syndrome affects your nerves. Because nerves control your movements and body functions, people with Guillain-Barre may experience:
Severe, early symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome significantly increase the risk of serious long-term complications. Rarely, death may occur from complications such as respiratory distress syndrome and heart attack.
A diagnosis of Guillain-Barre syndrome can be emotionally difficult. Although most people eventually recover fully, the condition is generally painful and requires hospitalization and months of rehabilitation. You must adjust to limited mobility and fatigue.
To manage the stress of recovery from Guillain-Barre syndrome, consider these suggestions:
Guillain-Barre syndrome can affect all age groups. But you're at slightly greater risk if:
Guillain-Barre syndrome may be triggered by: