Can GBS Start in Fingers?

Reviewed on 4/12/2022

Nerves with Guillain-Barré Syndrome
Symptoms of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) frequently start in the fingers and hands, along with the limbs and feet, causing numbness, weakness, and pain.

GBS (Guillain-Barré syndrome) is a rare autoimmune condition in which a person’s own immune system mistakenly attacks the nerves, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. 

Symptoms of GBS frequently start in the fingers and hands, along with the limbs and feet, causing numbness, weakness, and pain.

Weakness on both sides of the body is usually the first major symptom of GBS and most people will be at their weakest within two to three weeks after symptoms start. 

Other symptoms of GBS include: 

  • Tingling in the feet or hands
  • Pain often starting in the legs or back (especially in children) 
  • Difficulty with eye muscles and vision
  • Difficulty swallowing, speaking, or chewing
  • Pricking or “pins and needles” sensations in the hands and feet
  • Severe pain, especially at night
  • Problems with coordination and unsteadiness
  • Abnormal heartbeat/rate or blood pressure
  • Digestion problems
  • Bladder control problems

Symptoms may progress and in severe cases, a person can become paralyzed.

What Causes GBS (Guillain-Barré Syndrome)?

GBS (Guillain-Barré syndrome) is an autoimmune condition in which a person’s own immune system mistakenly attacks the nerves. It is unknown exactly why this happens, but GB often occurs following a respiratory or gastrointestinal viral infection.

Triggers for GBS may include: 

  • Infection with Campylobacter jejuni, which causes diarrhea, is one of the most common risk factors for GBS
  • Flu
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Epstein Barr virus
  • Zika virus
  • Surgery
  • Rarely, people develop GBS in the days or weeks after receiving certain vaccines

How Is GBS (Guillain-Barré Syndrome) Diagnosed?

GBS (Guillain-Barré syndrome) is diagnosed with a patient history and physical examination, however, early signs and symptoms of GBS are similar to several other disorders and it may be difficult to diagnose GBS in the early stages.

The physical examination may include an examination of the hands, feet, or limbs to check for symptoms such as numbness, and a check of reflexes. 

Other tests that may be used to help diagnose GBS include: 

What Is the Treatment for GBS (Guillain-Barré Syndrome)?

There is no known cure for GBS (Guillain-Barré syndrome) though most people will eventually make a full recovery. However, in some cases it can be life-threatening and others may be left with long-term problems. Recovery time varies from a few weeks up to a few years.

Treatment for GBS to lessen the severity of the illness and shorten recovery time may include: 

  • Plasma exchange (PE, also called plasmapheresis)
  • High-dose immunoglobulin therapy (IVIg)
  • Supportive care to address complications of paralysis 
    • Mechanical ventilator to help support or control breathing
    • Heart monitor or equipment that measures and tracks body function
    • manually moving and positioning a person’s limbs to help keep the muscles flexible and prevent muscle shortening
    • Injection of blood thinners to help prevent blood clots from forming in leg veins
    • Inflatable cuffs placed around the legs to provide intermittent compression
  • Rehabilitative care
    • Occupational and vocational therapy 

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Reviewed on 4/12/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Guillain-Barr%C3%A9-Syndrome-Fact-Sheet

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/guillain-barre-syndrome/diagnosis/