Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) Vaccine Injuries

What is (Guillain-Barre Syndrome) GBS?

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a rare neurological disorder in which the body’s immune system is triggered in a way in which it attacks part of the peripheral nervous system (the network of nerves located outside of the brain and spinal cord).

Today, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program recognizes a causal connection between the flu shot and GBS if the symptoms of GBS started between 3 and 42 days after the administration of a flu shot.

GBS can range from a very mild case with brief weakness to nearly devastating paralysis, leaving the person unable to walk, balance or breathe independently. The rehabilitation for GBS is intense and severe, and after recovery, some people will continue to have some degree of weakness.

What are the symptoms of GBS?

The most typical and classic symptoms in people with GBS start with numbness, tingling and weakness in their feet, legs, hands and arms.  Usually these symptoms will start in the lower extremities and rapidly move up the body. In other occasions (particularly the Miller Fisher variant of GBS), these same symptoms of numbness, tingling and weakness will start in the arms and hands and move south down the body.  A comprehensive list of signs and symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) may include:

  • Prickling, pins and needles sensations in your fingers, toes, ankles or wrists;

  • Weakness in your legs that spreads to your upper body;

  • Unsteady walking or inability to walk or climb stairs;

  • Difficulty with eye or facial movements, including speaking, chewing or swallowing;

  • Severe pain that may feel achy or cramp-like and may be worse at night;

  • Difficulty with bladder control or bowel function;

  • Rapid heart rate;

  • Low or high blood pressure;

  • Difficulty breathing;

Individuals with GBS usually experience the peak of their weakness within two to four weeks after their symptoms first begin.

How does GBS manifest?


The acute progression of limb weakness, often with sensory and cranial nerve involvement 1–2 weeks after immune stimulation, proceeds to its peak clinical deficit in 2–4 weeks. When patients present with rapidly progressive paralysis, the diagnosis of Guillain-Barré syndrome needs to be made as soon as possible.

Symptoms peak within 4 weeks, followed by a recovery period that can last months or years, as the immune response decays and the peripheral nerve undergoes an endogenous repair process.

(source: HJ Willison. Guillain-Barre Syndrome. The Lancet. 2016. 388:10045. Pp. 717-727).

What Causes GBS?


Guillain-Barré syndrome is the most common and most severe acute paralytic neuropathy, with about 100,000 people developing the disorder every year worldwide.  GBS can be preceded by infections, by viral and bacterial, or by vaccination.  Cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome have been linked to recent influenza vaccines.

Photo by dra_schwartz/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by dra_schwartz/iStock / Getty Images

The relevant medical literature that supports the causal link between GBS and the flu shot is based on the 1976 vaccination campaign for H1N1 influenza A virus, where roughly one in 100,000 people who had been vaccinated developed Guillain-Barré syndrome.  Other vaccines, including tetanus, TDaP, MMR, and Hepatitis A vaccines, have also been linked to the development of GBS. 

Today, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program recognizes a causal connection between the flu shot and GBS if the symptoms of GBS started between 3 and 42 days after the administration of a flu shot. 

Are there variants of GBS?

There are several variants of GBS, but they are all considered to have a rapid onset of symptoms:  

  • Acute Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (AIDP) 75% – 80% of cases fall into this ‘classic’ category

  • Acute Motor Axonal Neuropathy (AMAN) Similar to AIDP, but without sensory symptoms

  • Acute Motor Sensory Axonal Neuropathy (AMSAN) Severe variant of GBS more prevalent in Asia, Central America, and South America

  • Miller Fisher Syndrome Characterized by double vision, loss of balance, and deep tendon reflexes

How is GBS diagnosed and treated?

Guillain-Barré syndrome can be difficult to diagnose in its earliest stages because its signs and symptoms are similar to those of other neurological disorders or degenerative spine issues.  Upon presentation to the hospital, these are the tests that are routinely performed after a detailed history and thorough physical examination is taken:

  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture). A small amount of fluid is withdrawn from the spinal canal in your lower back. The fluid is tested for a type of change that commonly occurs in people who have Guillain-Barre syndrome.

  • Electromyography. Thin-needle electrodes are inserted into the muscles your doctor wants to study. The electrodes measure nerve activity in the muscles.

  • Nerve conduction studies. Electrodes are taped to the skin above your nerves. A small shock is passed through the nerve to measure the speed of nerve signals.

  1. While there is no cure for Guillain-Barré syndrome, there are common treatment protocols that can speed recovery and reduce the severity of the illness:

    • Plasma exchange (plasmapheresis). The liquid portion of part of your blood (plasma) is removed and separated from your blood cells. The blood cells are then put back into your body, which manufactures more plasma to make up for what was removed. Plasmapheresis may work by ridding plasma of certain antibodies that contribute to the immune system's attack on the peripheral nerves.

    • Immunoglobulin therapy. Immunoglobulin containing healthy antibodies from blood donors is given through a vein (intravenously). High doses of immunoglobulin can block the damaging antibodies that may contribute to Guillain-Barré syndrome.

  2. After these therapies are utilized and the person has plateaued, they may require additional medications to treat nerve pain.  

    Recovering from GBS is often scary and difficult.  Most individuals are left with complete paralysis and must relearn how to walk and do simple household and daily tasks.  Although some people can take months and even years to recover, most people with GBS experience a plateau of their condition at four weeks after their symptoms begin and a recovery that least between 6 and 12 months.  For some, recovery can last years. Based on studies on the recovery of GBS, about 80% of people with GBS can walk independently by the 6-month mark, while only 60% will fully recover their motor strength at one year. Approximately 10% of those diagnosed with GBS will have a very delayed and incomplete recovery leaving them with residual weakness, tingling, fine motor deficits, and neuropathic pain.

Licensed 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.

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