Guillain-Barré syndrome – the peculiar disease that can affect anyone

This rare, yet serious syndrome is an autoimmune condition which attacks the body’s nervous system Download the avi file. Although you can be treated, the disease can be life-threatening if not managed in time.

What causes Guillain-Barré syndrome?

Guillain-Barré syndrome is thought to be caused by a problem with the body’s immune system. A healthy immune system attacks bacteria and viruses entering the body – but in this case, the immune system mistakes the nerves for “foreign objects”, attacking them too.

This causes problems with the messages between the brain and nerves, and results in numbness and muscle weakness.

A few other triggers for Guillain-Barré syndrome include:

  • infection like food poisoning or the flu
  • a vaccination like the flu shot,
  • surgery or a medical procedure.

It is is not contagious.

Who gets it?

This syndrome can affect anyone. There’s no specific age group or gender and males and females are equally likely to suffer from the syndrome. It’s a very rare condition, affecting one in every 100 000 people.

Symptoms include:

  • A tingling sensation or weakness in the legs, hands or feet, which may spread to other parts.
  • Numbness.
  • Pain.
  • Difficulty with balance and coordination.
  • Loss of control over muscles.
  • Loss of control over speech.
  • Paralysis of the legs, arms, and/or face.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Double vision.


Although there is no definite cure, these treatments are known to help relieve symptoms:

  1. Plasma exchange where the liquid (plasma) is removed from your blood and separated from the cells. Your blood cells are placed back into your body, and more plasma is manufactured. This process gets rid of the antibodies which might trigger an attack on the nerves.
  2. Immunoglobin therapy where a mixture of antibodies is injected to help the immune system attack the antibodies that triggers the disease.
  3. Painkillers to help relieve pain.
  4. Medication and compression socks if you’re prone to blood clots.
Read  Why are your hands shaking?

Time for the doctor?

Go to your doctor immediately if you notice some of the earliest symptoms of Guillain-Barré. Although the numbness and weakness might be caused by something else, it’s important to rule out the syndrome first. 

Can I recover?

Most people often recover fully, but symptoms can last for months or years. Unfortunately, not all people recover completely from the symptoms and can be left with permanent problems like an inability to walk without assistance, a permanent weakness in the limbs or face and speech problems.

Have more questions about this rare condition? Ask our doctors! They’re here to help.