Guillain-Barre Syndrome

The precise cause of Guillain-Barre is unknown. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about two-thirds of people with Guillain-Barre develop it soon after they’ve been sick with diarrhea or a respiratory infection. This suggests that the disorder may be triggered by an improper immune response to the previous illness.

Campylobacter jejuni infection has been associated with Guillain-Barre. Campylobacter is one of the most common bacterial cause of diarrhea in the United States. It’s also the most common risk factor for Guillain-Barre. Campylobacter is often found in undercooked food, especially poultry.

The following infections have also been associated with Guillain-Barre:

  • influenza
  • cytomegalovirus, which is a strain of the herpes virus
  • Epstein-Barr virus infection, or mononucleosis
  • mycoplasma pneumonia, which is an atypical pneumonia caused by bacteria-like organisms
  • HIV or AIDS

Anyone can get Guillain-Barre, but older adults and men are most likely to contract it.

In extremely rare cases, people can develop the disorder days or weeks after receiving a vaccination. The CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have systems in place to monitor the safety of vaccines, detect early warning signs of side effects, and record any cases of Guillain-Barre that develop following a vaccination.

What Are the Symptoms of Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

In Guillain-Barre syndrome, your immune system attacks your peripheral nervous system. The nerves in your peripheral nervous system connect your brain to the rest of your body and transmit signals to your muscles. The muscles won’t be able to respond to signals they receive from your brain if these nerves are damaged.

The first symptom is usually a tingling sensation in your toes, feet, and legs. The tingling spreads upward to your arms and fingers. The symptoms can progress very rapidly. In some people, the disease can become serious in just a few hours.

The symptoms of Guillain-Barre include:

  • tingling or prickly sensations in your fingers and toes
  • muscle weakness in your legs that travels to your upper body and gets worse over time
  • difficulty walking steadily
  • difficulty moving your eyes or face, talking, chewing, or swallowing
  • severe lower back pain
  • loss of bladder control
  • fast heart rate
  • difficulty breathing
  • paralysis
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