What is GBS?

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a severe disorder in which the body's immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system.

Usually our immune system protects us from foreign material and invading organisms, however, in GBS the immune system starts to destroy parts of the peripheral nerves.

Initial symptoms of GBS include varying degrees of weakness or tingling sensations in the extremities (arms or legs). In rare cases the disorder starts at the top of the body, the first symptoms in this instance might be trouble chewing and swallowing.

As the disorder progresses these symptoms can escalate until certain muscles cannot be used at all. In severe cases the person will be almost totally paralysed — no use of arms or legs, extreme breathing difficulties, and unable to talk. Most patients reach their weakest point within the first two weeks.

The sudden and unexpected onset of GBS  can be devastating. Most sufferers spend upwards of three months in hospital and take up to a year to recover. Eighty to ninety per cent of patients make a full recovery, however for some the nerve damage is so severe they are left with permanent weakness, numbness and pain.

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