Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Guillain-Barre syndrome

3-minute read

Key facts

  • Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare disease where your immune system attacks your nerves (this is known as an autoimmune condition).
  • The cause of Guillain-Barre syndrome is not known, but it usually starts after an infection.
  • Your illness may start with tingling and weakness in your legs that spreads to your upper body, and some people go on to develop almost complete paralysis.
  • You may need treatment in hospital.
  • You’re likely to recover extensively over the first year, though you may continue to experience some symptoms for life.

What is Guillain-Barre syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome (pronounced ghee-yan bah-ray) is a rare illness in which antibodies and immune cells in your body's immune system attack the nerves connecting your brain and spinal cord with the rest of your body. This causes weakness, numbness or paralysis. When the immune system attacks the body, it is called an autoimmune condition. You may need treatment in hospital for some time, but most people with Guillain-Barre syndrome recover well.

What are the symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome can start in many different ways. It usually begins with tingling or weakness in your legs that may spread to your upper body. In severe illness, symptoms can lead to almost total paralysis.

Other signs and symptoms may include:

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes Guillain-Barre syndrome?

The exact cause of Guillain-Barre syndrome is not known, but it usually starts after an infection. Occasionally, it is triggered by surgery.

How is Guillain-Barre syndrome diagnosed?

Your doctor will talk to you and examine you if they think you may have Guillain-Barre syndrome. You may need to see a neurologist and have tests to see how well your nerves are working. You may also need a lumbar puncture, which involves checking the fluid around your spine and brain with a thin needle.

How is Guillain-Barre syndrome treated?

In the early stages, you usually need to be in hospital so doctors can monitor your breathing. You may need to be on a ventilator in an intensive care unit (ICU) to help you breathe.

With time, you usually improve gradually. You are likely to be walking again within 6 months.

Guillain-Barre syndrome can be treated with:

  • plasma exchange, which involves removing part of your blood and replacing it with plasma from the blood bank
  • intravenous (IV) immunoglobulin therapy — using antibodies from blood donors to alter your abnormal immune response
  • medicines to relieve your pain and prevent blood clots
  • physiotherapy

How long will I have Guillain-Barre syndrome?

Most patients make a full recovery from Guillain-Barre syndrome. Even if you were paralysed or needed a ventilator, you are likely to recover within the first year after symptoms started. Some people have symptoms for life.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2022


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Guillain-Barre syndrome - MyDr.com.au

Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) is a condition where the body's immune system attacks the nerves. Symptoms include weakness or paralysis of the muscles.

Read more on myDr website

Guillain-Barre Syndrome

Guillain-Barre syndrome is an autoimmune condition in which the person’s nerves are attacked by the body’s own immune defence system

Read more on Queensland Health website

Guillain-Barre Syndrome - Brain Foundation

Guillain-Barre Syndrome Description Pronounced ghee-yan bah-ray and named afterthree French neurologists who described the condition intwo soldiers in 1916

Read more on Brain Foundation website

About Guillain-Barré syndrome | Garvan Institute of Medical Research

Guillain-Barré syndrome information, symptoms and treatment options, with links to Garvan's latest research findings. GBS causes damage to the peripheral nervous system.

Read more on Garvan Institute of Medical Research website

Guillain-Barré syndrome - Better Health Channel

Most people with Guillain-Barré syndrome experienced some form of viral or bacterial infection before the onset of symptoms.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Peripheral Neuropathy - Brain Foundation

Peripheral Neuropathy (See also CIDP; Guillain-Barre Syndrome) Description The peripheral nerves connect the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy - Brain Foundation

Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP) Description Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP) is a neurological disorder that results in slowly progressive weakness and loss of feeling in the legs and arms

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Zika virus - Better Health Channel

Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus. There is no cure, specific treatment or vaccine for Zika virus.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Brainstem Auditory Evoked Potential (BAEP) | myVMC

A brainstem auditory evoked potential (BAEP) is an evoked potential caused by a sound, usually a series of 'clicks'. Electrodes positioned on the scalp record responses to the sounds; these are then observed as a reading on an electroencephalogram (EEG). Responses to aural stimuli originate from relay structures within the brainstem.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Porphyria - Better Health Channel

Porphyria can affect the skin, nervous system, gastrointestinal system or all of these, depending on the specific type.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.