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Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS)
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Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS)

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Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) is an inflammatory disorder in which your body's immune system attacks the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord (peripheral nerves) and, rarely, parts of the brain itself. Severe weakness and numbness in your legs and arms characterize GBS. Loss of feeling and movement (paralysis) may occur in your legs, arms, upper body and face.

It can strike any race at any age, but its incidence increases with age. GBS may occur within days or weeks after a viral infection such as influenza (flu) or diarrhea. It may be triggered by pregnancy or a medical procedure, such as a vaccination or minor surgery, or have no evident reason for developing. Because the cause of GBS is unknown, there's no way to prevent the disease from occurring.

Screening and diagnosis

GBS can be difficult to diagnose in its earliest stages. Its signs and symptoms are similar to those of other neurologic disorders and may vary from person to person.

The first step in diagnosing GBS is for your doctor to take a careful medical history to fully understand the cluster of signs and symptoms that you're experiencing. People with GBS have a relatively sudden onset of signs and symptoms, and muscle weakness usually occurs on both sides of the body as opposed to on one side only, as in a stroke.

Doctors commonly use two tests to determine if GBS is present:

  • Electromyography (EMG). An EMG helps establish a diagnosis and the extent of a neurologic problem by measuring the electrical activity of a muscle in response to nerve stimulation. The test also measures the nature and speed of impulse conduction along a nerve. In an EMG, a technician inserts electrodes in fine needles into the muscles being tested and places electrodes on your skin over peripheral nerves.

  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture). This procedure involves inserting a needle into your spinal canal, usually at the low back (lumbar) level. Your doctor can determine the pressure of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), and a sample of fluid can be removed for laboratory analysis. This analysis may include checking for evidence of bleeding, the number and types of white blood cells, the level of glucose and protein, the type of proteins, and tests for bacteria and fungi.


The long-term outlook for most people with GBS is good. Fifty percent to 90 percent of those affected recover completely, though some have residual weakness or abnormal sensations such as numbness or tingling. For some, recovery can take a long time — from several months to a year or more.

Although most recover completely, people affected by GBS may experience a number of complications, including:

  • Relapse (10 percent to 20 percent of all cases)

  • Permanent impairment (15 percent to 20 percent of all cases)

  • Serious, long-term disability (5 percent to 15 percent of all cases)

  • Death (5 percent or less of all cases)

Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4

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Last Modified : 03/15/08 12:56 AM