Guillain-Barré Syndrome

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Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a rare autoimmune condition that causes the immune system to attack the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord. GBS creates numbness, tingling, weakness, or paralysis in the legs, arms, breathing muscles and face. It can affect people of all ages.

GBS Treatment at UVA Health

The GBS-CIDP Foundation has designated UVA as a Center of Excellence, meaning we offer expert diagnosis and management of inflammatory neuropathies critical to patients. Learn more about this designation for GBS excellence.

Testing for GBS

We may do these tests:

  • Blood tests
  • Lumbar puncture to evaluate the cerebrospinal fluid that protects the brain and spinal cord
  • Nerve conduction and electromyography studies

GBS Treatments

We'll work to reduce your body’s autoimmune response and decrease complications from immobility.


During plasmapheresis, we remove blood from your body and move it through a machine that separates blood cells. We return separated cells to your body with new plasma. This can help you get better faster and keep GBS from getting as bad.

High-dose Immunoglobulin Therapy

We may use intravenous infusion with immunoglobulin (IVIG) to reduce the severity of your Guillain-Barré attack. Immunoglobulins are proteins that are naturally produced by the body’s immune system. Learn more about infusion therapy.

Mechanical Ventilation

In some cases, your breathing muscles become paralyzed. If this happens, we'll give you immediate emergency support from a mechanical ventilator.


We may recommend over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome Symptoms

At first, GBS causes:

  • Pain, especially lower back pain
  • Increasing muscle weakness in your legs, arms, or face
  • Prickly, tingling sensations, usually in your feet or hands
  • Loss of normal reflexes

Symptoms may come on over hours, days or weeks. Symptoms get worse with time, and most people experience the greatest weakness during the second or third week.