What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

GBS is an acute neuropathy in which the body's immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. In most cases, this autoimmune neuropathy is caused by damage to the myelin sheath (the insulation covering the nerve and protecting the underlying nerve fibers) of the peripheral nerves. After the first clinical manifestations of the disease, the neurologic symptoms progress over days or weeks.

Diagnosis of Guillain-Barre Syndrome

Diagnosing neuromuscular illness can be a complex process. A broad range of diseases can affect nerves and muscles, and often produce similar symptoms, such as weakness and numbness. Penn's Neuromuscular Disorders Program offers consultations and comprehensive neurodiagnostic studies to help with difficult diagnosis. A Penn neuromuscular specialist reviews the complete medical history, and performs a comprehensive neuromuscular examination, of each patient. When appropriate, our specialists use our technologically advanced neurodiagnostic facilities.

Diagnostic testing includes:

  • Biochemical and genetic testing
  • Computerized tomography (CT)
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Nerve and muscle biopsy
  • Nerve conduction studies and electromyography (EMG)

Treatment at Penn

The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania serves as one of 12 sites in the United Stated designated as a GBS/CIDP Center of Excellence by the GBS/CIDP Foundation International. Based on levels of expertise, available treatments, facilities, and research capabilities these medical centers have been designated as regional centers of excellence.

Effective treatments for GBS include intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) or plasma exchange (plasmapheresis). Both treatments are equally effective. Physical therapy plays an important role in combination with the medical treatments and may help with improvement in muscle strength, as well as overall function and mobility.

Penn Programs & Services for Guillain-Barre Syndrome

Neuromuscular Disorders

Our neuromuscular disorders program provides the latest advancements in the evaluation, diagnosis and treatment for all types of neuromuscular disorders, such as ALS, Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) and muscular dystrophies. 

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