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Guillain-Barré Syndrome

As the No. 2 ranked rehabilitation hospital in the nation and the best in Texas, according to U.S. News & World Report, TIRR Memorial Hermann sets the standard of excellence in the rehabilitation of persons with neurodegenerative diseases such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS).

What is Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

GBS is an autoimmune disorder in which the body's immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. Specifically, the immune system begins to destroy the myelin sheath surrounding the axons of peripheral nerves, or the axons themselves, which carry nerve signals. When myelin sheaths are injured or degraded, nerves lose the ability to transmit signals efficiently

What are the symptoms of Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

The initial symptom is typically numbness or tingling sensations in the feet, which spreads to the arms and upper body. Unlike other disorders, symptoms typically appear on both sides of the body and occur very quickly, in hours or days. These symptoms can increase in intensity, resulting in muscle weakness and in the most severe cases, total paralysis. In these cases, GBS can be life-threatening, interfering with breathing, blood pressure or heart rate. When this occurs, a patient is often put on a ventilator to aid in breathing. Fortunately, most patients recover from even the most severe cases, although there can be residual weakness.

Given the sudden, unexpected onset and the severity of symptoms, GBS can be emotionally and physically devastating for patients and their families. It is often difficult for patients to adjust to sudden paralysis and dependence on others for help with daily activities. Patients may benefit from psychological counseling to help them cope.

What causes Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

GBS is rare, affecting only about one person in 100,000, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and no one knows the exact cause. guillain barre syndrom can affect persons of all ages, and both sexes are equally prone. GBS usually occurs a few days or weeks after a patient has had symptoms of a respiratory or gastrointestinal viral infection. GBS can also be triggered by surgery and has been associated with infection with the Zika virus and, in rare cases, with vaccinations.

How is Guillain-Barré Syndrome diagnosed?

The signs and symptoms of GBS can be quite varied, and several disorders present similar symptoms, making GBS difficult to diagnose. Physicians will note whether the symptoms appear on both sides of the body (most common in GBS) and the rate at which the symptoms spread (typically rapidly with GBS). Because signals traveling along the nerve are slower, a physician suspecting gullain barre syndrom may conduct a nerve conduction velocity test to test a patient’s reflexes. And because with GBS, the cerebrospinal fluid that bathes the spinal cord and brain contains elevated protein levels, a physician may perform a spinal tap, a procedure by which a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid is withdrawn for study.

How is Guillain-Barré Syndrome treated?

While there is no known cure for GBS, certain therapies can lessen the severity of the illness and expedite recovery. Plasma exchange (also called plasmapheresis, in which whole blood is removed from the body and processed to remove the plasma, followed by reintroduction of the red and white blood cells into the body) and high-dose immunoglobulin therapy are used to reduce the severity and duration of the GBS episode.

The most critical part of treatment for GBS involves keeping the patient’s body functioning during recovery of the nervous system. This can require placing the patient on mechanical ventilatory assistance, a heart monitor or other machines to aid bodily functions. Physical, occupational and speech therapies play an important role, both before and after recovery begins.

What rehabilitation services are available for Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

TIRR Memorial Hermann offers specialized rehabilitation to treat GBS, in both inpatient and outpatient settings, including:

  • Comprehensive management of rehabilitation needs by a physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor
  • Evidence-based interventions to help patients gradually rebuild neuromuscular control
  • Patient and family training with adaptive devices, such as a wheelchair or braces; including portable ventilator that can attach to an electric wheelchairs, if needed
  • Speech therapy for patients who have trouble swallowing or talking
  • Psychological assessment and treatment for coping skills and to manage depression or anxiety
  • Recreational therapy and vocational counseling to help transition back to home and school or work

Read more about TIRR Memorial Hermann’s Neurodegenerative Disease Programs.

What are the benefits of rehabilitation for Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

TIRR Memorial Hermann rehabilitation services help GBS patients to:

  • Gradually rebuild neuromuscular control
  • Overcome difficulties with swallowing or speaking
  • Minimize pain
  • Develop coping skills
  • Manage depression or anxiety
  • Transition back to home, school or work

What is the long-term prognosis for patients with Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

Most patients with GBS make a full recovery, although recovery can take weeks, months or even years. About a third of these patients still suffer residual weakness after three years, and a small percentage (about 3 percent) may suffer a relapse of muscle weakness and tingling years after the initial attack.

Meet the Team

Our interdisciplinary team of specialists works closely with the patients and their families and caregivers to foster improved quality of life and maximize positive patient outcomes. TIRR Memorial Hermann Neurodegenerative Disease Programs promote close collaboration with all members of the team to ensure patients receive the most appropriate management of their illness.

Get Started

To get started, use this form to become a patient or contact us by phone 1 (800) 44-REHAB (73422) , (713) 797-5942 or fax 713.797.5988

Patient Stories

Oscar Rangel Guillan Barre Therapy ThumbOscar and his family started to see improvements immediately in specialized therapy that helped to treat Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Read the full story


Dionni thumbnailA month after delivering her third child in October 2015, Dionni De La Cruz developed a cough and numbness in her feet and fingers that continued to progress. Read the full story


Ryan GBTwo-year-old Ryan went to bed perfectly healthy. The next day, he was completely paralyzed. Doctors diagnosed him with Guillain-Barré Syndrome. He went on to make a full recovery. Read the full story