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Guillain Barre Syndrome

About Guillain-Barre Syndrome

Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is a rare illness where your body’s immune system begins to attack itself. The syndrome usually occurs a few days or weeks after experiencing a respiratory or gastrointestinal viral infection.

In some cases, GBS can be triggered by surgery or vaccinations, but this is extremely rare. GBS also develops at different rates, whether it be a few hours or days, or even up to three to four weeks. It is currently not known why GBS affects some people and not others, and what actually triggers the illness.

The first symptoms of GBS are varying degrees of weakness or tingling sensations in your legs. In many cases the weakness and tingling spreads to your arms and upper body. These symptoms increase in intensity until your muscles cannot be used and become almost totally paralysed. This can sometimes result in the need to place you on a respirator, heart monitor, or other machines that will assist your body to function.

Most people recover from even the most severe cases of GBS. However in some instances, people continue to experience some degree of weakness.


There is currently no cure for GBS. However, there are several treatments that can lessen the severity and aid in recovery. The most common treatment is administration of Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIg). High doses of IVIg are administered via several smaller doses. These smaller doses allow the immune system to naturally attack the invading organism. Another method of treatment is corticosteroids, which are a class of steroid hormones. Corticosteroids are involved in a wide range of physiologic systems including immune response.

There are also several other treatments designed specifically for preventing or managing any complications as a result of GBS.


GBS can be a devastating disorder, due to its sudden and unexpected onset. After the initial onset of symptoms, a low, stable level of impairment often results. This impairment usually lasts no longer than a few weeks. Once your condition begins to improve, any relapse or recurrence of the symptoms is rare.

Recovering from GBS can be a relatively short, or exceedingly long period, and can take anywhere between a few weeks and a few years.

The impairment period prior to recovery can determine the likelihood of any long-term effects. The shorter the impairment period, the less likely it is that you will experience any long-term effects.

When some muscle strength has returned, and any medical complications have been resolved, an extensive rehabilitation process begins to restore your muscle strength.

Emotional Reaction

Emotional ReactionIt is normal to experience a variety of emotional responses to the onset, weakness and unpredictability of GBS. The most common reactions are denial, shock and disbelief (this can’t be happening to me); bargaining (if I get better fast I’ll be satisfied); frustration (I’m fed up with being in the hospital and want to be back home); depression (I feel terrible, will I never get better); and acceptance (I’ll do the best I can).

It is important that your family and friends also understand GBS and the good chance of recovery. It is helpful to have someone that both you and your family can call on to get explanations about issues related to your condition.

Do not hesitate to ask for explanations of the activities carried out by nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, and anyone else involved in your care, as it will help alleviate any feelings of anxiety when unfamiliar procedures are performed.

Also encourage frequent visits by family and friends as this will provide much needed moral support and reassurance. By involving family and friends with activities such as grooming, reading, playing cards and discussing family events, this may reduce any feelings of isolation or helplessness that you may experience.

Some important facts

  • GBS is extremely rare. It occurs in approximately one to two cases per 100 000 cases
  • approximately 50 per cent of cases follow a viral illness
  • diagnosis can be difficult in the early stages of the syndrome
  • the illness is not contagious
  • fifty per cent of patients initially develop abnormal sensations, 25 per cent present with muscle weakness (usually difficulty walking) and the remaining 25 per cent present with both symptoms
  • rehabilitation is the major form of treatment
  • recovery usually takes between six months and two years
  • in the early stages of the illness, prognosis or the long-term outcome is not predictable
  • around 90 per cent of patients eventually experience complete, or almost complete recovery
  • five to fifteen per cent of patients will have significant long-term disabilities or handicaps
  • thirty-five to forty-five per cent of patients have long lasting, but mild, abnormalities.

Support Groups

GBS & CIDP Support Group of South East Qld
Phone: 0410 050 044

GBS Association of New South Wales
Phone: 02 9869 1839
Email: info@gbsnsw.org.au

Mater Private Hospital Brisbane

301 Vulture Street, South Brisbane QLD 4101
General Enquiries Telephone 07 3163 8111


© 2010 Mater Misericordiae Ltd. ACN 096 708 922

Mater acknowledges consumer consultation in the development of this patient information.
Mater Doc Num: PI-CLN-450011
Last modified 09/8/2017.
Consumers were consulted in the development of this patient information.
Last consumer engagement date: 19/1/2017
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