Guillain-Barré Syndrome

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Neurosurgery Team

(502) 583-1697

Norton Children’s is a leading provider of child neurology care in Louisville, Kentucky, and Southern Indiana. Our board-certified and fellowship-trained child neurologists care for children with Guillain-Barré syndrome.

What Is Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a rare disorder that affects the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord, called the peripheral nervous system. GBS can cause:

  • Breathing trouble due to paralysis of the chest muscles
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Pain
  • Temporary paralysis of the face, eye, chest and limb muscles

GBS Causes

The exact cause is unknown. One theory is thatGBS is an autoimmune disorder that can develop after an infection, surgery or trauma. It causes the immune system to attack the peripheral nervous system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about two-thirds of people who develop GBS experience symptoms days or weeks after being sick with a respiratory infection or diarrhea.

GBS Symptoms

Each child experiencesGBS symptoms differently.They can develop quickly andresemble other medical conditions. Common symptoms include:

  • Breathing trouble
  • Facial weakness
  • Irritability
  • Losing feeling or pain in fingers and toes
  • Weakness, tingling and pain in the legs that moves to the arms
  • Trouble walking

GBS Treatment

There is no cure for GBS. The condition is reversible, but children diagnosed with GBS may need to be admitted to the hospital for monitoring and care. Most children make a full recovery and are able to return to normal life in a few weeks.

Treatment includes supportive care and preventing breathing issues from developing. Treatments may include:

  • Breathing machine: Children experiencing severe symptoms may need a breathing machine to help them breathe easier.
  • Plasmapheresis or immunoglobulin administration: These treatments may be used to reduce inflammation and symptoms, and control the attack on the nervous system.
  • Physical, occupational and speech therapy: Children may develop stiff muscles and contracted joints. Therapy can help them regain strength and mobility.

The idea that GBS may be a side effect from vaccinations started in the aftermath of a swine influenza vaccine program administered in the United States in 1976. At the time, the estimated risk of getting GBS after a swine flu vaccine was estimated to be about 1 per 100,000 recipients.

Since then, studies have shown that the risk of GBS within six weeks of being sick with the flu was much higher than the risk after getting a flu shot. Data showed one GBS hospital admission per million vaccinations compared with 17 GBS admissions per million influenza infections.

Additional studies show that vaccines for a number of conditions are not associated with increased risk for GBS, including vaccines for:

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