Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is an autoimmune disorder. With an autoimmune disorder, the body's immune system attacks itself. The exact cause is unknown. GBS can occur at any age. It is most common in people of both sexes between ages 30 and 50.
GBS often follows a minor infection, such as a lung infection or gastrointestinal infection. Most of the time, signs of the infection have disappeared before the symptoms of GBS begin.
The swine flu vaccination in 1976 may have caused rare cases of GBS. The swine flu and the regular flu vaccines used today have not caused more cases of the illness.
GBS damages parts of nerves. This nerve damage causes tingling, muscle weakness, and paralysis. GBS most often affects the nerve's covering (myelin sheath). This damage is called demyelination. It causes nerve signals to move more slowly. Damage to other parts of the nerve can cause the nerve to stop working altogether.
GBS may occur with viral infections such as:
- Herpes simplex
GBS may also occur with other medical conditions such as:
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Hodgkin disease
- After surgery
- Severe illness (GBS of this type is called neuropathy of critical illness)