Updated September 2007Page 1 of 3
Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS)
Emotional reactions are commonly experienced due to the sudden onsetof symptoms, the degree of disability and the level of dependence thatmay accompany this disorder. People affected with GBS need clear andhonest explanations about the disease and what is happening to them. Ifthey are unable to speak, efforts to help them communicate will likely easethe frustration they may be experiencing. Moral support throughout thecourse of the disorder is of utmost importance.
What is Guillain-Barré syndrome?
Guillain-Barré syndrome is an inflammatory disorder of the peripheralnerves (nerves located outside the brain and spinal cord) which areattacked by the body's own immune system. It is characterized by rapidand progressive muscle weakness. It affects nerves that signal muscles tocontract and may impair one's ability to walk, write, breathe, talk, etc. InGBS, the damaged nerves are unable, to varying degrees, to perform theirfunctions correctly.GBS can develop over a period of hours, days orweeks. GBS most often follows a viral or bacterialinfection, but pregnancy, surgery or vaccinationsmay trigger the disorder in rare instances.
What are the symptoms of Guillain-Barrésyndrome?
Initial symptoms may be abnormal or decreasedsensations in the lower limbs which progress tonumbness and tingling. Many people experiencesevere back pain. Weakness in the legs and armsaffects both sides equally. It is this symmetricalweakness that helps differentiate GBS from otherdisorders. Other common complaints include muscleaching and cramping, shortness of breath andbieralfacial drooping (palsy). Severity of symptomscan vary greatly from person to person. Somepeople experience symptoms that are so mild,individuals may not even seek medical attention. Inother cases, affected persons may experienceprofound weakness and almost complete paralysis,including the muscles of respiration.
Who can be affected by Guillain-Barrésyndrome?
This disorder can affect anyone. It can occur at anyage and to persons of either sex. The incidencetends to increase with age, so that GBS is mostcommon in people who are 50 to 80 years old. It isconsidered a rare disorder, with an incidence ofapproximately 2-3 cases per 100,000 people perear.
What causes Guillain-Barré syndrome?
In Guillain-Barré syndrome, for reasons that arecurrently unknown, the body's immune systembegins to attack the body itself. In this case, thefocus of the attack is the myelin sheath thatsurrounds the axons of nerve cells and sometimes,the axons themselves.