Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS)


Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) often begins with tingling and weakness starting in your feet and legs and spreading to your upper body and arms. In about 10 percent of people with the disorder, symptoms begin in the arms or face. As Guillain-Barré Syndrome progresses, muscle weakness can evolve into paralysis.

Signs and symptoms of Guillain-Barré Syndrome may include:

  • Prickling, "pins and needles" sensations in your fingers, toes, ankles or wrists

  • Weakness in your legs that spreads to your upper body

  • Unsteady walking or inability to walk or climb stairs

  • Difficulty with eye or facial movements, including speaking, chewing or swallowing

  • Severe pain that may feel achy or cramp-like and may be worse at night

  • Difficulty with bladder control or bowel function

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Low or high blood pressure

  • Difficulty breathing

People with Guillain-Barré Syndrome usually experience their most significant weakness within two to four weeks after symptoms begin. Recovery usually begins two to four weeks after weakness plateaus.

Types

Once thought to be a single disorder, Guillain-Barré Syndrome is now known to occur in several forms.

The main types are:

  • Acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (AIDP), the most common form in the U.S. The most common sign of AIDP is muscle weakness that starts in the lower part of your body and spreads upward.

  • Miller Fisher syndrome (MFS), in which paralysis starts in the eyes. MFS is also associated with unsteady gait. MFS occurs in about 5 percent of people with Guillain-Barré Syndrome in the U.S. but is more common in Asia.

Complications

Guillain-Barré Syndrome affects your nerves. Because nerves control your movements and body functions, people with Guillain-Barre may experience:

  • Breathing difficulties. The weakness or paralysis can spread to the muscles that control your breathing, a potentially fatal complication. Up to 30 percent of people with Guillain-Barré Syndrome need temporary help from a machine to breathe when they're hospitalized for treatment.

  • Residual numbness or other sensations. Most people with Guillain-Barré Syndrome recover completely or have only minor, residual weakness, numbness or tingling.

  • Heart and blood pressure problems. Blood pressure fluctuations and irregular heart rhythms (cardiac arrhythmias) are common side effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome.

  • Pain. Up to half of people with Guillain-Barré Syndrome experience severe nerve pain, which may be eased with medication.

  • Bowel and bladder function problems. Sluggish bowel function and urine retention may result from Guillain-Barré Syndrome.

  • Blood clots. People who are immobile due to Guillain-Barré Syndrome are at risk of developing blood clots. Until you're able to walk independently, taking blood thinners and wearing support stockings may be recommended.

  • Pressure sores. Being immobile also puts you at risk of developing bedsores (pressure sores). Frequent repositioning may help avoid this problem

Treatments

People with Guillain-Barré Syndrome need physical help and therapy before and during recovery.

Your care may include:

  • Movement of your arms and legs by caregivers before recovery, to help keep your muscles flexible and strong

  • Physical therapy during recovery to help you regain strength and proper movement

  • Training with adaptive devices, such as a wheelchair or braces, to give you mobility and self-care skills

  • Exercise therapy, to cope with fatigue


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