What is GBS?

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Early Findings With Guillain-Barré Syndrome

The effects of Guillain-Barré syndrome can be quite varied. As mentioned above, this disorder affects the nerves that sense our surroundings (hot, cold, smooth, rough, other textures etc.) as well as those that signal our muscles to contract and let us walk, write, breathe, swallow, talk, smile, and so forth. In Guillain-Barré syndrome, the damaged nerves can not perform these functions properly. If nerves that sense surroundings become damaged, patients may initially develop abnormal or decreased feelings, such as numbness, tingling, asleep feeling, crawling under the skin, electricity, vibrations and so forth. These abnormal sensations are often felt in the feet, hands, and even gums or face, tend to be equal on both sides of the body, and may go up the body (ascend) from feet to hands to face, or descend.

Just as often, and usually of most distress to the patient, is muscle weakness and aches. These are caused by damage to the nerves that go to muscles. Commonly, the thigh and hip muscles are affected so that walking stairs or getting up from a chair becomes difficult.

Indeed this is a problem that often motivates a patient to seek medical attention. If the arms are affected, lifting heavy objects becomes difficult. Aches or cramps often accompany muscle weakness. On occasion, the muscles that control breathing lose their signals, so a patient feels short of breath; or muscles for swallowing become weak so that patients cough on their own secretions. Should facial muscles lose their signals, the expression may become lop-sided, the smile lost, or food may get caught in a cheek pouch. Such problems may lead a person to seek medical attention. Rarely, difficulty in urinating or inability to hold one's urine, and therefore wetting, may be a patient's initial problem.

The syndrome may also involve the automatic nerves to the body and alter blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature and vision. Even brain control of kidneys can be affected, resulting in poor or excessive urine output and abnormal blood chemistries, such as low salt concentration.

In contrast to a stroke that typically affects only one side of the body, Guillain-Barré syndrome usually causes sensations and weakness of both sides.