Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS)

GBS is a rapidly evolving disease characterized by muscle weakness, ranging from mild to severe and occasionally leading to complete paralysis. GBS is a treatable disease and the outcome is usually good even for those with severe weakness. About 70% of patients recover full strength.

Glossary of Terms

Glossary of Terms Often Used in Connection with GBS or its Variants

Here are just a few of the terms you might come across in dealing with Guillain-Barré Syndrome or its variant illnesses.


Acute: Happening fairly quickly.

Axons: The best way to describe this is to regard the similarity with the electric jug cord. If you imagine the plastic coating on the outside of the jug cord is the myelin, and the inside of the cord (the wires) are the axons. The messages from the brain are passed through the nerve axons to the muscles. Once the message is interrupted by a damaged or stripped axon, then the message is interrupted and the muscles do not receive that message.

Chronic: Lasting a long time.

C.I.D.P. Chronic Inflammatory demeyelinting Polyneuropathy. While C.I.D.P shares many features with GBS, it is often recurrent and may require ongoing treatment.

Corticosteriods: Hormones, normally made by the adrenal gland above the kidneys.

Demeyelinting: Damage of or removal of nerve insulation.

Fisher Syndrome: Also known as Miller Fisher Syndrome. This varies from GBS in that it involves eye problems, (weakness or double or blurred vision) in conjunction with facial weakness, abnormal sensations, and speech problems.

Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIg): Donated human plasma (blood with the red and white cells removed) contains proteins called Immunoglobulins which can be separated from the rest of the plasma and in a concentrated solution is administered intravenously to GBS patients through a needle inserted (usually) in the arm. Why administering another person antibody proteins to a GBS patient should help is unclear but it may be the donor’s antibodies bind too and neutralise the patients antibodies that are doing the damage. Regardless of the mechanism IVIg has been shown to be effective in a wide range of autoimmune diseases including GBS and CIDP and in tests has been demonstrated to improve the rate of recovery compared to PLEX and has fewer side effects. It is easier to administer than PLEX and requires no special equipment and whilst not totally risk free (especially in the case of diabetics or older persons at risk to stroke or heart attack with high blood pressure or high cholesterol) IVIg is now the preferred treatment for most GBS cases.

Lumbar Puncture: A process of withdrawing fluid from the spinal column in order to test for a positive diagnosis of GBS.

Myelin: The coating around the axons which protects and insulates the axon.

Nerve Conduction Tests: Not a most pleasant experience, but one used to calculate the degree of nerve damage by testing what information is getting through from the brain to the nerves.

Paresthesias: Tingling, twitching, crawling sensations felt by the GBS patient. These weird sensations are very disturbing and annoying.

Plasmapheresis: Is a process in which some of the patients blood is removed, the liquid part separated, and the blood cells returned to the body.

Polyneuropathy: Disease of many nerves.

Prognosis: The likely outcome of the illness.

Splints: Aids used to prevent the curling of fingers, and also used to prevent footdrop. While uncomfortable, they provide valuable long term results.

Syndrome: A collection of symptoms that make up an illness. There maybe only a few of these symptoms present in each patient, but enough to make a GBS diagnosis.

Ventilator: Mechanical apparatus used to aid ones breathing.