Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare but serious autoimmune disease of the peripheral nervous system. It can lead to weakness and paralysis that may last for months or years.

The condition frequently follows a mild viral infection that resembles flu or gastroenteritis, and some cases of Guillan-Barré syndrome (GBS) occur after a bacterial infection. Symptoms start within a few days or weeks after the infection.

The condition affects in the United States (U.S.).

GBS can affect people of any age or either sex, although it is slightly more common in older people and males. The condition usually begins following an infectious disease.

This article will cover the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of GBS. Medical News Today will also investigate connections between this condition, the Zika virus, and vaccinations.

Fast facts on Guillain-Barré syndrome:

Here are some key points about Guillain-Barré syndrome. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

  • Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is an autoimmune disease.
  • The first symptoms of GBS are usually tingling and muscle weakness that begins in the lower extremities. The entire body can eventually become paralyzed.
  • The exact causes are still unknown.
  • Once they start to occur, the symptoms of GBS tend to develop very rapidly, over a small number of days, usually causing the highest levels of weakness within the first 2 to 3 weeks of symptom onset.
  • The onset often follows an infection.
  • Most people fully recover within 12 months, but full recovery may take up to 3 years in some cases.

[Tangle of nerves]
Guillain-Barre syndrome affects the myelin coating of peripheral nerves.

GBS is a rare but serious autoimmune disorder that can affect any part of the nervous system outside of the brain and spinal cord. This is known as the peripheral nervous system.

An autoimmune disease involves the immune system attacking and destroying certain groups of healthy cells. In the case of GBS, the immune system attacks the myelin sheaths of peripheral nerves.

The myelin sheaths are the coatings on the axons of nerves, and myelin is essential for the speedy carrying of axonal nerve impulses. Axons are the long, thin extensions of nerve cells. In some cases, these are also attacked.

As the myelin is damaged, nerves can no longer send certain information to the spinal cord and brain, such as touch sensations. This causes the sensation of numbness. In addition, the brain and spinal cord are no longer able to transmit signals back to the body, leading to muscle weakness.

The disease often begins with tingling sensations and weakness in the feet and legs. It then slowly spreads upward until a large portion of the body is affected. The nerves connected to the lower extremities are the longest in the body. This travel distance makes these nerves more prone to a break in nerve signals due to GBS and its symptoms.

This condition is considered a medical emergency, and an individual should receive medical attention as soon as possible.

Initially, GBS was considered to be a single condition. Now, it is thought to take a number of forms. The three most common types of GBS are as follows:

The exact causes of GBS are still not known.

The condition often develops a few days or weeks after an infection of the digestive or respiratory tract. This suggests that they could be related to GBS. In rarer cases, the syndrome can occur following surgery, other infections, or immunization.

Some that viral and bacterial infections may change the how the immune system reacts to the peripheral nerves, possibly causing the myelin and underlying axon not to be recognized as body tissue. This would make them a target for immune response.

There are some known risk factors, including:

Is the Zika virus linked?

Recent findings reported in suggest that the Zika virus might also cause GBS.

Zika virus has previously been associated with GBS. The link was first described in 2013 and 2014 when the incidence of GBS showed a significant increase over 4 to 5 years during a Zika outbreak in the French Polynesian islands.

This was the first evidence of such a link, and more research is required. However, there have been a few studies looking at the in the incidence of GBS in French Polynesia and Latin America after recent Zika outbreaks.

Zika has been associated with mild flu-like symptoms in most people that contract the disease, similar to many of the infections that appear before GBS.

Vaccination link

In 1976, there was a small increase in the risk of contracting GBS following a swine flu virus vaccination.

However, the increase was by just one additional case per 100,000. Research has also shown that individuals are more at risk of developing the condition after a case of the flu than they are from the vaccination.

According to the :

"It is important to keep in mind that severe illness and death are associated with influenza, and vaccination is the best way to prevent influenza infection and its complications."

It is generally regarded as safe to continue receiving flu vaccinations.

In general, for most patients who have GBS, the nerve damage worsens quickly for around a couple of weeks and stops deteriorating by around 4 weeks. The average recovery time is 6 to 12 months.

Recovery can be very slow. It can also demand a lot of support, physiotherapy, counseling, and occupational therapy.

A few patients may be left with long-term disability, and about of people with GBS still experience some weakness after three years. Patients recover at different rates, and some experience incomplete or delayed recovery.

of GBS is fatal. However, the majority of patients make a full recovery.