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Symptoms and Signs of Guillain-Barre Syndrome

Doctor's Notes on Guillain-Barre Syndrome

Guillain-Barrre is an autoimmune nerve disorder associated with rapid loss of sensation and muscle weakness. Signs and symptoms include weakness and/or numbness on both sides of the body, usually starting in the legs and moving up to the abdomen, arms and neck; muscle weakness near involved nerves is often noted. Deep tendon reflexes are decreased or absent, facial and/or throat muscles can be weak and individuals may have rapid heartbeats, sweating, facial flushing and weak eye muscles. Some have their respiratory muscles affected; this may require assisted breathing (intubation) and is a medical emergency. Signs and symptoms usually reach peak severity at about 2-3 weeks after first symptoms develop.

The cause of the disorder is unknown; however, viral infections (for example, cytomegalovirus, herpes, Epstein-Barr, flu) are possible triggers in about 2/3 of newly diagnosed patients. The viruses (and other less frequent problems like surgery or vaccines) are thought to trigger the immune system to attack the nerve structures (myelin sheath that help protect nerve fibers).

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.