Guillain–Barré syndrome

A rare condition affecting the peripheral nerves (see peripheral nervous system) that causes weakness, usually in the limbs. The cause is believed to be an allergic reaction to an infection, usually viral; the nerves are damaged by antibodies produced by the body to eliminate the infection. In most cases, the disease develops 2 or 3 weeks after the onset of infection. Weakness, often accompanied by numbness and tingling, usually starts in the legs and spreads to the arms. The weakness may become progressively worse, resulting in paralysis. The muscles of the face and those controlling speech, swallowing, and breathing may also be affected. Diagnosis of Guillain–Barré syndrome is confirmed by electrical tests to measure how fast nerve impulses are being conducted, or by a lumbar puncture. Most people recover fully with only supportive treatment. However, in severe cases, treatment with plasmapheresis or immunoglobulin may be given. Mechanical ventilation may be needed to aid breathing if the respiratory muscles and diaphragm are severely affected. Some people are left with permanent weakness in affected areas and/or suffer from further attacks of the disease.


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