Guillain Barre Syndrome in Children

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Guillain-Barre Syndrome
In the most common form of Guillain-Barré syndrome, the myelin covering of nerves throughout the body (the “peripheral nerves”) is damaged. (In a rarer form of the disease, the nerve axons themselves are damaged.) This can cause weakness, pain and sometimes temporary paralysis of muscles in the legs, arms, face and chest.

One day your child is fine, the next day she’s a little weak, and then the day after that she can’t walk. For many families of children with Guillian-Barré syndrome (GBS), this is how they first discover that something is wrong. It’s a terrifying experience for any parent to go through.

Fortunately, Guillain-Barré doesn’t just strike quickly: In most cases, it also goes away quickly. Many children are able to go back to their regular activities in a few weeks.

Here is some basic information about Guillain-Barré:

  • It’s an autoimmune disorder that affects nerves carrying messages between your child’s brain and the rest of her body.
  • The symptoms include muscle weakness, numbness, pain and sometimes temporary paralysis of muscles in the face, legs and chest. The disease usually starts in your child’s feet or hands and then moves toward her body.
  • Your child will probably need to be admitted to the hospital so doctors can help her recover and monitor her for complications that can be life-threatening.
  • If your child’s chest muscles are severely affected, it can cause breathing problems. If that’s the case, your child may need to be admitted to the intensive care unit and placed on a ventilator until she’s able to breathe on her own again.
  • The vast majority of children recover fully or with mild complications.
  • Some children who’ve had Guillain-Barré later have a relapse and develop a related, more chronic disease, called chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (CIDP).
  • The causes of Guillain-Barré aren’t completely understood. In some cases, it appears to be triggered by an infection. In rare cases it can occur after an immunization.
  • The disease is extremely rare: It affects only about one in 100,000 children.

How Boston Children’s Hospital approaches Guillain-Barré

Our team at Boston Children’s is experienced in recognizing the signs of Guillain-Barré and providing excellent monitoring and treatment. We’re dedicated to treating children and adolescents, so our physicians, nurses and technologists are experts at helping kids feel at ease throughout testing and their time in the hospital, and supporting families every step of the way.

Specialists in our Neuromuscular Center evaluate and treat infants, children and adolescents with Guillain-Barré and other neuropathies. The program brings together pediatric specialists from neurology and other fields so we can provide comprehensive care for our patients. Our team works together with your family to help your child get back to her normal life as quickly and fully as possible.

Guillain-Barré syndrome: Reviewed by Peter Kang, MD

© Boston Children’s Hospital, 2010

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