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Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS)
Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) is a rare disorder that usually occurs after an infection affecting approximately 1 out of 100,000 people. GBS can affect... Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS)

by Kimberly Allen R.N.

Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) is a rare disorder that usually occurs after an infection affecting approximately 1 out of 100,000 people.  GBS can affect anyone at any age as well as affecting both men and women equally.  It usually presents after a viral infection in the respiratory or digestive tract.  GBS causes the autoimmune system to malfunction  and it begins to attack the myelin sheath that coats and protects the peripheral nerves.  Peripheral nerves are those in our extremeties, hands, feet, legs and arms.  There are six known subtypes of GBS.

Gillain-Barre Syndrome attacks the nervous system and can lead to full or partial paralysis.

1.  Acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (ADP)  is the most frequently diagnosed form of GBS.  In this sub type the auto immune system attacks the schwann cell membranes which are responsible for numerous functions including the conduction of nerve impulses, nerve development and regeneration.
2.  Miller-Fisher syndrome (MFS) is a rare form of GBS that presents as a descending paralysis instead of the typical ascending paralysis.  It is diagnosed in only about 5% of all GBS cases.
3.  Acute motor axonal neuropathy  (AMAN) has also been referred to as Chinese paralytic syndrome because it is more prevalent in China and Mexico.  In this type the auto immune system attacks the very tiny gap between the myelin sheaths known as the nodes of Ranvier.  It is believed that this type of GBS may be seasonal with a rapid recovery.
4.  Acute motor sensory axonal neuropathy (AMSAN) has similar affects as AMAN however it also affects the sensory nerves.  in this type the auto immune system causes severe damage to the axons of the nerve cells.  In this type the recovery is slow and not always  complete.
5.  Bickerstaff brainstem encephalitis (BBE) is another form of GBS that is characterized by the loss of function of one or more muscles that control eye movements, loss of coordination and disturbances in consciousness.  It can occur in one long phase or be remitting-relapsing.
6.  Acute panautonomic neuropathy is the rarest form of GBS and is associated with a high mortality rate because of the involvement of the cardiovascular system, and sometimes encephalopathy.
The symptoms of GBS vary from person to person as well as between the different types making it difficult to diagnose in the early stages.  Typically early symptoms include weakness and a tingly sensation in the legs that can range from mild to severe, you may also have a “pin’s and needles” sensation in your toes and/or fingers.  Difficulty walking is an issue for many.  As the disease progresses you may loose your ability to walk  may even become paralyzed.  When GBS gets to this stage it becomes life threatening and is treated as a medical emergency.
Currently there is no known cure for GBS, however there are different treatments that can decrease the severity of GBS and speed the recovery process and manage any complications.  Plasma exchange and high dose immuglobullin treatment  are both currently being used effectively to treat GBS.  Researchers are still unsure as to why these treatments are effective but, do know that they decrease the attacks on the nervous system.
Recovery from GBS can be a long process with approximately 30% of people with GBS that are still experiencing some residual weakness after 3 years.  It can be a devastating event for many people trying to adjust from being independent and active to paralyzed and dependent on others for help with their activities of daily living (ADL’s).  there are various support groups available that can offer counseling and help you adapt as increased stress can slow the recovery process.

Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at