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Neurology and Neuroscience

Guillain-Barre Syndrome

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About Guillan-Barre Syndrome

Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) is an acute autoimmune disease usually triggered by a recent, uncomplicated respiratory or gastrointestinal infection. In Guillain-Barre syndrome, the body's immune response to the infection is misdirected against the sheath that insulates nerves, slowing or stopping the nerve signals. Over the course of days to weeks patients experience worsening weakness, which usually starts in the legs, and progresses to the arms and upper body; the weakness can become severe. The muscles that control breathing may also be affected so that patients have difficulty breathing. In some cases they may require mechanical ventilation. Many patients with Guillain-Barre syndrome are hospitalized and remain there for days to months.

Medical Treatment for Guillan-Barre Syndrome

Doctors usually treat Guillain-Barre syndrome with two forms of treatment that can lessen the severity of symptoms and accelerate recovery.

  • Plasmapheresis is a procedure in which doctors filter abnormal antibodies from the blood. Plasmapheresis is effective in relieving the symptoms of muscle weakness and fatigue and speeds recovery.
  • High-dose immunoglobulin therapy (IVIg), in which patients receive infusions of the immune proteins derived from normal donors, can lessen the immune system's attack on the nervous system and also speed the time to recovery.
Neuro Intensive Care Unit

Guillain-Barre syndrome can advance rapidly and become life-threatening, so it is best treated in a setting where patients are under constant observation and where any neurological deterioration can be quickly detected and treated. NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital's state-of-the-art Neurological Intensive Care Units (neuro-ICUs) at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center bring together specially trained physicians and nurses, sophisticated monitoring techniques, and specialized treatments in 24-hour monitored settings. Guillain-Barre syndrome patients treated in our neuro-ICUs receive the most advanced care available for this neuromuscular disease.

Rehabilitation for Guillan-Barre Syndrome

Most patients eventually recover from even the most severe cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, although some continue to have a degree of weakness. Rehabilitation is integral to recovery from Guillain-Barre syndrome. Patients usually begin rehab while still in the hospital, and may continue working with rehabilitation specialists for some time, depending on the extent and duration of their weakness. Therapists:

  • Evaluate muscle strength and motor skills.
  • Develop an individualized exercise and rehabilitation program.
  • Recommend equipment for the home to ensure safety and mobility.
  • Discuss ways to modify activities, conserve energy, and simplify work.

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