Guillain-Barré syndrome is an autoimmune disorder in which the body's immune system attacks its own nervous system. This causes inflammation that damages the nerves. The first symptoms of this disorder include varying degrees of weakness or tingling sensations in the legs. In many instances the weakness and sensations spread to the arms and upper body. These symptoms can increase in intensity until certain muscles cannot be used at all and, when severe, the person is almost totally paralyzed.
Guillain-Barré syndrome can affect anyone. It can strike at any age and both sexes are equally prone to the disorder. The exact cause of GBS and why it affects one person and not another is not well understood. The autoimmune process may be spontaneous or may be triggered by some specific disease or exposure
Guillain-Barré syndrome can be a devastating disorder because of its sudden and unexpected onset. In addition, recovery is not necessarily quick. Patients usually reach the point of greatest weakness or paralysis days or weeks after the first symptoms occur. Symptoms then stabilize at this level for a period of days, weeks, or, sometimes, months. The recovery period may be as little as a few weeks or as long as a few years.
Guillain-Barré syndrome patients face not only physical difficulties, but emotionally painful periods as well. It is often extremely difficult for patients to adjust to sudden paralysis and dependence on others for help with routine daily activities. Patients sometimes need psychological counseling to help them adapt.
There is no known cure for Guillain-Barré syndrome. However, there are therapies that lessen the severity of the illness and accelerate the recovery in most patients. There are also a number of ways to treat the complications of the disease. Most individuals, however, recover from even the most severe cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, although some continue to have a certain degree of weakness.