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Guillain-Barré Syndrome

What is Guillain-Barré Syndrome? 

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a rare, rapidly progressing neurological disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack parts of its peripheral nervous system. Fewer than 6,000 people a year in the U.S. develop GBS, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Symptoms can start with unexplained pain, weakness, or tingling and intensify rapidly to almost complete paralysis. While a diagnosis of Guillain-Barré syndrome may feel overwhelming and is considered a medical emergency, most patients make a full recovery after intensive treatment.

What You Can Expect at UTHealth Houston Neurosciences

At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences, our dedicated team uses the latest technology to accurately diagnose and treat each patient. We work in multidisciplinary teams of specialists who share insights, leading to better treatment decisions and outcomes. Throughout the treatment process, we will work closely with the doctor who referred you to ensure a smooth transition back to your regular care. While you are with us, you will receive expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.

Causes of Guillain-Barré Syndrome

The cause is unknown, but research suggests that a germ or virus may alter the immune system in such a way that it begins attacking nerves. About half of Guillain-Barré syndrome cases follow a respiratory infection or stomach flu. Surgery, vaccinations, and bacteria found in undercooked poultry tend to increase the risk. A few different types of GBS exist, including Miller Fisher syndrome, which begins in the eyes, and acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy, which is the most common form in the United States and Europe.

This type attacks the protective covering of nerves. With acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (AIDP), patients tend to first notice symptoms in the lower body and symptoms spread upward.

Signs Guillain-Barré Syndrome

Initial symptoms may present as pain, weakness, or tingling in the hands or feet. Patients usually experience this in one side of the body at first, but the symptoms intensify rapidly. Patients might notice a rapid heart rate, changes in their blood pressure, and difficulties breathing and walking. Within hours, days, or weeks, a patient may have almost no use of some muscles. If the breathing muscles are affected, the patient may require a ventilator. Symptoms usually become most significant within two to four weeks from onset.


Following a medical history and physical examination, your doctor may recommend a nerve conduction study or an electromyography to measure nerve activity to help diagnose the syndrome. A spinal tap may be ordered to check for increased protein levels that indicate GBS.


While there is no known cure, treatments like plasma exchanges and high-dose immunoglobin therapies can help manage symptoms. These treatments alter a patient’s immune system to reduce the severity of symptoms. Patients often are admitted into intensive care during the most severe stages of Guillain-Barré, which typically appear two to three weeks after symptoms first appear. And even after treatment, lingering effects like fatigue and muscle weakness may linger.

Nerve Disorders

Contact Us

At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.