Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the peripheral nerves, damaging the myelin insulation.
Muscle weakness in the arms and legs are often the first signs of its onset. However, some patients report tingling in the face as their first symptom. The cause is still unknown, but in many cases, it’s preceded by an infection. At its most severe, it can cause total paralysis and is life threatening.
Other symptoms of GBS include difficulty chewing and swallowing, impaired speech, problems with bowel function and bladder control, fluctuating blood pressure (either high or low), respiratory distress, and rapid heartbeat. Guillain Barre usually peaks two to four weeks after the onset, and recovery begins two to four weeks after symptoms plateau.
There are three notable forms of Guillain Barre syndrome. They are:
- Acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (AIDP) In the United States, this is the most commonly diagnosed form of GBS. Muscle weakness usually begins in the lower extremities and works its way up.
- Miller Fisher syndrome (MFS) 5% of patients with MFS have an unsteady gait, and paralysis of the eyes. This form is not as common in the United States.
- Acute motor axonal neuropathy (AMAN)and acute motor-sensory axonal neuropathy (AMSAN) This form is seen more frequently in Japan and China, and curiously, in Mexico.
GBS usually requires hospitalization and the symptoms can get worse very quickly, so if you experience tingling in your feet that seems to be traveling upward, or you have muscle weakness, shortness of breath while lying down, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
A blogger named Holly Gerlach writes about her experience with GBS and how she recovered. It’s definitely worth the read. And, if you’d like to learn more about this rare syndrome, here are a few great resources: