What is Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS)?

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a rare neurological disorder in which the body's immune system is tricked into attacking parts of its peripheral nervous system (the network of nerves located outside of the brain and spinal cord). GBS can range from a very mild case with brief weakness to nearly devastating paralysis, leaving the person unable to breathe independently. Fortunately, most people eventually recover from even the most severe cases of GBS. After recovery, some people will continue to have some degree of weakness, numbness, tingling in various parts of the body (feet, hands, legs) as well as continued fatigue.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome can affect anyone. It can strike at any age (although it is more frequent in adults) and both sexes are equally prone to the disorder.  There are an estimated 4,000-6,000 case of GBS each year.

What are the symptoms of GBS?

Unexplained sensations often occur first, such as tingling in the feet or hands, or even pain (especially in children), often starting in the legs or back. Children may show difficulty walking and may refuse to walk.  Weakness on both sides of the body is the major symptom that prompts most people to seek medical attention. The weakness can first appear as difficulty climbing stairs or with walking and these symptoms will often affect the arms, breathing muscles, and even the face, reflecting more widespread nerve damage.

Most people reach the greatest stage of weakness within the first two weeks after symptoms appear; by the third week 90 percent of affected individuals are at their weakest. In addition to muscle weakness, symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty with eye muscles and vision

  • Difficulty swallowing, speaking, or chewing

  • Pricking or pins and needles sensations in the hands and feet

  • Pain that can be severe, particularly at night

  • Coordination problems and unsteadiness

  • Abnormal heart beat/rate or blood pressure

  • Problems with digestion and/or bladder control.

These symptoms can increase in intensity over a period of hours, days, or weeks until certain muscles cannot be used at all and, when severe, the person is almost totally paralyzed. In these cases, the disorder is life-threatening—potentially interfering with breathing and, at times, with blood pressure or heart rate.

How is GBS diagnosed?

Photo by dra_schwartz/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by dra_schwartz/iStock / Getty Images

GBS is often diagnosed either through physical findings, such as a person’s symptoms and complaints, or through testing.  Testing will include a spinal tap or lumbar puncture to sample an individual’s cerebral spinal fluid and check for elevated protein levels which are indicative of GBS.  Other testing will include a nerve conduction study or EMG, which measures the nerve’s ability to send a signal to parts of the body.

Can GBS be caused by a vaccine I received?

Yes.  Vaccines are known to be a cause of GBS depending on the timing in which the symptoms began after receiving the vaccine.  Typically, if an individual’s symptoms of GBS began within 42 days of receiving a vaccine, then the GBS was likely caused by the vaccine that was given.  The vaccine most commonly associated with the development of GBS is the flu shot. If symptoms begin beyond 42 days of receiving the vaccine, an argument can still be made that the vaccine was the cause, which is determined on a case by case basis.  

What are the legal options for a GBS case?

GBS injuries are the second most commonly litigated injury in the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.  Settlements are common in the vaccine courts, depending on the circumstances of your case, and the attorney handling your case.  The science and medicine to explain why the vaccine caused someone’s GBS is complex and dense.

PA, NJ & DE Vaccine Attorney

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At Green & Schafle LLC, we have skilled vaccine lawyers, licensed in the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program and the United States Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C. who are ready to represent your interests.  Our licensed vaccine attorneys have been representing vaccine-injured clients nationwide for the last decade and they are actively involved in the Vaccine Injured Petitioners Bar Association, the national organization dedicated to the representation of individuals with vaccine injuries.  If you know someone with GBS from a vaccine, let us know so that a free legal consultation can be given to you or a loved one.