Guillain–Barré syndrome (GBS) is a rapid-onset muscle weakness caused by the immune system damaging the peripheral nervous system. The initial symptoms are typically changes in sensation or pain along with muscle weakness, beginning in the feet and hands. This often spreads to the arms and upper body with both sides being involved. The symptoms develop over hours to a few weeks. During the acute phase, the disorder can be life-threatening with about 15% developing weakness of the breathing muscles requiring mechanical ventilation. Some cases can get affected by changes in the function of the autonomic nervous system, which can lead to dangerous abnormalities in heart rate and blood pressure.
The cause is unknown. The underlying mechanism involves an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the peripheral nerves and damages their myelin insulation. Sometimes this immune dysfunction is triggered by an infection (Zika) or less commonly surgery or vaccination.