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What is Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)?

Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) is an acute autoimmune disease usually triggered by a recent, uncomplicated respiratory or gastrointestinal infection. In Guillain-Barre syndrome, the body's immune response to the infection is misdirected against the sheath that insulates nerves, slowing or stopping the nerve signals. Over the course of days to weeks patients experience worsening weakness, which usually starts in the legs, and progresses to the arms and upper body; the weakness can become severe. The muscles that control breathing may also be affected so that patients have difficulty breathing. In some cases they may require mechanical ventilation. Many patients with Guillain-Barre syndrome are hospitalized and remain there for days to months.

Guillain-Barre syndrome is a disorder in which the body's immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. The first symptoms of this disorder include varying degrees of weakness or tingling sensations in the legs. In many instances, the weakness and abnormal sensations spread to the arms and the upper body. These symptoms can increase in intensity until certain muscles cannot be used at all and when severe, the patient is almost totally paralyzed. In these cases, the disorder is life threatening,- potentially interfering with breathing and at times, with blood pressure or heart rate, and is considered a medical emergency. Such a patient is often put on a respirator to assist with breathing and is watched closely for problems such as an abnormal heart beat, infections, blood clots, and high or low blood pressure. Most patients, however, recover from even the most severe cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, although some continue to have a certain degree of weakness.

Guillain-Barre syndrome can affect anybody. It can strike at any age and both sexes are equally prone to the disorder. The syndrome is rare, however, afflicting only about one person in 100,000. Usually, Guillain-Barre occurs a few days or weeks after the patient had shown the symptoms of a respiratory or gastrointestinal viral infection. Occasionally, surgery or vaccinations will trigger the syndrome.

After the first clinical manifestations of the disease, the symptoms can progress over the course of hours, days, or weeks. Most people reach the stage of greatest weakness within the first two weeks after the symptoms appear, and by the third week of the illness, 90 percent of all patients are at their weakest.

This answer is based on source information from The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes.

Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS) is an autoimmune disease in which the patient's immune system attacks the peripheral nerves.  It typically begins 1-3 weeks after a viral infection, but can occur after a bacterial infections, surgery or toxin exposure; some cases have no inciting event. 
The autoimmune attacks is most commonly directed against myelin sheats (a type of insulation which surrounds the peripheral nerves) but can be directed against the core of the nerve which is called the axon. 

Guillain-Barre syndrome is a fairly uncommon disorder in which the lining, or myelin sheath, that surrounds the nerves is attacked by the immune system. Guillain-Barre usually begins with numbness, tingling and weakness in the arms and legs. The feelings then spread throughout the body, causing paralysis.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.