Home - National Multiple Sclerosis Society

Skip to navigation Skip to content

Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS)

From The MS Information Sourcebook, produced by the National MS Society.

While MS destroys the myelin of the central nervous system (the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves), Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) destroys the myelin of the peripheral nerves-those that go out from the brainstem and spinal cord to all other parts of the body. Myelin is the fatty sheath that surrounds and insulates nerve fibers. Myelin of the peripheral nervous system is different from central nervous system myelin. It has a different biochemical makeup and different antigens-the cell-surface molecules that provoke an immune response. In GBS, the damage is caused primarily by antibodies to a component of peripheral myelin.

GBS usually develops after a viral infection such as the flu. While most cases of GBS are acute and monophasic-occurring briefly over a time-limited period-there is a chronic relapsing form as well, called chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP) in which the person has repeated episodes. In the most serious cases, GBS may lead to paralysis and be life-threatening because it can interfere with breathing.

The cause of GBS is unknown. It can affect a person of any age, and both sexes are equally prone to get this disease. The syndrome is rare, however, occurring in only about one person in 100,000.

GBS is usually diagnosed by clinical examination, analysis of the cerebrospinal fluid, and sometimes electrodiagnostic studies. The diagnostic criteria are very different from those for MS.

Plasmapheresis, which involves separating the blood components to remove the attacking antibodies, and administration of immune globulin are generally very effective. Treatment may take many months, but the majority of patients with GBS make a good recovery with little or no residual deficit.

See also...

Information about GBS from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)




Last updated February 2006