Guillain-Barre syndrome

A 65-year-old man was relaxing in his chair reading the daily, when he felt a tingling sensation in his legs. He stood up, walked for 15 minutes, and thought it would go away but the sensation slowly spread to his arms. Gradually within few days, the symptoms started becoming severe, and within 2 weeks, his left side became paralyzed. He felt difficulty in breathing and was rushed to the emergency. The doctor diagnosed his condition to be Guillan-Barre syndrome. Fortunately, the patient recovered completely after treatment.


The Guillan- Barre disease symptoms may appear as:

  • Tingling sensation in the arms and legs.
  • The person feels extremely weak.
  • This tingling sensation spreads to the upper body and the person loses reflexes like the knee jerk reaction on testing by the doctor.

Within 2 weeks, severe symptoms appear in which

  • Paralysis of certain muscles takes place
  • The person will not be able to swallow or breathe.
  • Frightening, the patients do recover completely after treatment.


Guillan- Barre syndrome has no cure; usually the symptoms worsen, and then reach a plateau where the symptoms do not aggravate, thereafter, the recovery process starts. To reduce the severity of the symptoms and speed up recovery, treatments like plasmapheresis and intravenous immunoglobulin therapy are given.

In the procedure called as plasmapheresis, plasma exchange treatment is done in which the antibodies that are damaging are removed from the blood. This is a type of ‘blood cleansing’ procedure. The liquid portion of blood, which is called as plasma, is separated from the blood cells and then transferred back into the body. These blood cells now start forming new plasma as a means to compensate for the lost plasma. This procedure of plasmapheresis gets rid of antibodies that trigger immune system attack on peripheral nerves. Intravenously (through vein) immunoglobulins are taken from blood donors that contain healthy antibodies and are transferred into the patient.

These immunoglobulins help in blocking the damaged antibodies that give rise to Guillan- Barre syndrome.


A syndrome means a group of symptoms. Hence, the doctor first tries to take the complete medical history of the patient to understand all the symptoms.

The doctor conducts a lumbar puncture in which a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid is taken from the spinal canal at the lower back and tested in the lab for Guillan- Barre syndrome.

The doctor also conducts nerve conduction studies in which electric current is sent to stimulate the muscles and nerves. The response is then studied by the doctor

An electromyography is conducted in which the electrical activity of the muscles is studied by which the doctor will determine whether the weakness is being caused by damage to the nerves or muscles.

Additional assistance

After treatment at the hospital, physical therapy is given to strengthen the muscles. The caregivers may manually move the patient’s hands and legs to keep the muscles strong and flexible. Self-care skills are taught and training is given with the help of adaptive devices like braces and wheel chair which will help the patient in mobility.

Discoverers of Guillain-Barré Syndrome

The Guillain-Barré was discovered by the French Physicians Jean Alexander Barre and Georges Guillain, and Andre Strohl who described it in the year 1916 AD after they conducted tests on soldiers who returned from World War 1.