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Guillain-Barré Syndrome

The Neuroscience Institute at Virginia Mason in Seattle provides diagnosis and treatment of Guillain-Barré Syndrome.

What is Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) is a disorder that involves inflammation of the peripheral nerves (those outside the brain and spinal cord). It is characterized by the rapid onset of weakness and often paralysis of parts of the body, including the legs, arms, face and breathing muscles.

Most patients recover but many have long-term disabilities of varying severity.

What causes Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

The cause of GBS is unknown.

Around 50 percent of cases occur shortly after a viral infection. Some theories suggest an autoimmune mechanism, which means that the patient’s own immune system damages the nerve covering or insulation. Many cases of GBS have developed in people who received the 1976 swine flu vaccine.

How is Guillain-Barré Syndrome treated?

Most newly diagnosed patients are hospitalized, because progression of the disease is so unpredictable. Their breathing and other body functions are monitored and methods designed to speed recovery are employed.

Plasma exchange and high doses of intravenous immune globulins often are helpful in shortening the course of GBS.