Guillain-Barré syndrome

Other Names:
Ascending paralysis
Acute polyneuritis

Recognized since the early 1800s, Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare, paralyzing and potentially catastrophic disorder of the peripheral nerves. It involves a sudden attack on the nerves that control movement - both voluntary, like walking, and involuntary, like breathing. People may spend months in hospital, not knowing if or when they will recover. Some face long-term disability. The disease is of variable severity; in mild cases the victim can still walk, while in the most severe sufferers are reduced to a state of near-paralysis. Four out of five victims eventually recover fully but it takes several years for the injured nerves to completely repair themselves. Younger people recover more quickly. There is around a five percent mortality rate, usually from respiratory complications or heart problems.

The cause of the disease is unknown, but about two-thirds of cases are preceded by a respiratory or gastrointestinal infection. A significant minority of cases follow infection by two herpes viruses, cytomegalovirus or Epstein-Barr virus, the cause of infectious mononucleosis. Some cases have been triggered by immunizations against infections such as influenza.


Guillain-Barre syndrome most often strikes people over 60, but it can be contracted by younger and vigorous people, such as Olympic swimmers. The author Joseph Heller, wrote of his experiences in his novel "No Laughing Matter". It is the most common cause of paralysis in the young and affects several hundred people in the UK each year.

Related Problems:
Transverse myelitis
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
04.09.2021 – 10:56 CEST