Guillian Barre Syndrome

Dr. Ira Shah
Consultant Pediatrician, Nanavati Hospital and B.J.Wadia Hospital for Children, Mumbai India
First Created: 03/06/2001  Last Updated: 08/01/2015

Patient Education

What is Guillian Barre Syndrome?

Gillian Barre (pronounced as Gee-a-bare) syndrome is one of the causes of paralysis of both legs and hands of the body. It is also called as GBS.

Why does GBS occur?

GBS occurs due to an abnormal reaction of our own body’s immune system whereby the body’s immune system attacks the myelin (covering on the nerves) and thus leads to improper functioning of the nerves and thus weakness.

Who can get GBS?

GBS can occur in anyone. However who may get it is not known. Not all individuals who suffer from infection or had a vaccine shot get GBS. It depends on the patient's immune system and how the immune system reacts to these factors. Thus, one cannot predict who is more prone to get GBS.

What are the symptoms of GBS?

Children will initially have acute leg pain and stiffness. The child will refuse to walk and starts limping. Gradually weakness progresses rapidly in 2-4 weeks and there is an inability to move both upper and lower limbs and there may also be difficulty in eating and there may be nasal twang to the voice. In very severe cases, there may be difficulty in breathing due to the involvement of the respiratory muscles also.

How is the diagnosis of GBS made?

The doctor may suspect GBS on clinical evaluation. However other conditions such as poliomyelitis may also mimic similar symptoms and thus doctors may advise certain tests. These include nerve conduction velocity study (NCV) and even analysis of elevated protein content in the brain fluid (cerebrospinal fluid).

What is the treatment of GBS?

Treatment of GBS consists of support to respiration. If there is difficulty in breathing, the child may require ventilatory support - specific treatment in form of immunoglobulin (IVIG) may be given. In some centers, plasma exchange in form of plasmapheresis is done to remove abnormal circulating immune complexes.

What is the outcome of patients with GBS?

Patients with Guillain Barre syndrome usually recover on their own. Recovery is faster when treated with IVIG or plasmapheresis.

What are the complications of GBS?

Most of the time, GBS is self-limiting. However, in some patients, symptoms may persist for a long time and the disease may become chronic and lead to a condition called as CIDP (Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy). In patients with CIDP, weakness may follow a longer course but breathing problem usually does not arise. Patients with CIDP may need treatment with plasmapheresis, immunoglobulin, or steroids.

Sometimes, GBS can recur for the second time.

How long does it take for recovery to occur in GBS?

Usually, total recovery takes 2-3 months and in some patients may take a year. In patients with chronic disease, recovery may not be complete and there may be residual weakness, numbness, and pain.

Can a child with GBS be given vaccines?

A child with GBS should avoid immunization for at least 6 weeks after complete recovery. In some children, vaccines may have to be deferred for even a year.

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