What is Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS)?

What is Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS)?

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a neurological disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord. Cases can range from mild to severe, with some people recovering within two weeks and others sustaining permanent nerve damage.

Types of Guillain-Barré Syndrome


There are several variations of Guillain-Barré syndrome:

  • Acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (AIDP). The most common form of Guillain-Barré syndrome, AIDP can be recognized by its progressive weakening of the muscle’s ability to respond to stimuli and mild sensory changes.
  • Miller-Fisher syndrome (MFS). A rare form of GBS, Miller-Fisher syndrome, is characterized by a higher likelihood of facial and cranial nerve weakness rather than loss of motor abilities in the limbs.
  • Acute motor axonal neuropathy (AMAN). Another rare variant of Guillain-Barré syndrome, AMAN, usually involves muscle weakness in the limbs and the absence of reflexes in deep tendons.

Signs & Symptoms of Guillain-Barré Syndrome


The symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome commonly start with tingling and weakness in the hands or feet. Symptoms can progress and spread quickly over a period of hours or days and can become debilitating. Guillain-Barré is a medical emergency and usually requires hospitalization.

Additional Guillain-Barré syndrome symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty speaking, swallowing, or chewing
  • A “pins and needles” sensation in the fingers, wrists, ankles, or toes
  • Difficulty moving the eyes
  • Vision problems
  • A rapid or abnormal heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A low or high blood pressure
  • A loss of bladder or bowel control

What Causes Guillain-Barré Syndrome?


While researchers aren’t always sure why Guillain-Barré syndrome occurs, the disease often develops in people who have recently experienced an infection. The body’s immune system is awakened to attack invading bacteria and mistakenly attacks similar-looking nerve cells in the body. In some less-common cases, surgery or vaccinations can trigger the disease.

Risk Factors for Guillain-Barré Syndrome

Risk Factors

Guillain-Barré syndrome can affect anyone, but there are a few risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing the disease:

  • A recent viral or bacterial infection, surgery, or vaccination can increase your chances of developing GBS
  • The disease is more common in males than in females
  • The likelihood of developing a severe case of GBS may be increased if you are older or have a history of nerve impairment



Guillain-Barré syndrome can cause complications related to the nervous system. These include:

  • Breathing problems. Since GBS can affect the muscles that control breathing, severe breathing problems can occur in those diagnosed with the disease. Many GBS patients need breathing assistance when first hospitalized for the disease.
  • Weakness. Some patients require a cane or walker to aid in walking following treatment for GBS. Most patients who are hospitalized for GBS treatment benefit from intensive rehabilitation after they leave the hospital.
  • Long-lasting numbness or sensations. While the majority of GBS patients see their symptoms go away within a few weeks, some may experience residual numbness, tingling, or weakness.
  • Blood clots. GBS often causes some level of immobility, which can in turn increase the risk of developing a blood clot.
  • Pressure sores. Often called bed sores, pressure sores can develop in immobile people, as some GBS patients spend most of their time in a chair or bed and can’t change positions.
Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Guillain-Barré Syndrome Care

NewYork-Presbyterian’s neurologists work closely with other medical specialists, including emergency medicine personnel (since many Guillain-Barré patients come through the Emergency Department) to evaluate and treat patients. Together they offer comprehensive care to a wide variety of neurological disorders to manage symptoms and speed recovery.