What Is It?
Guillain-Barré syndrome is an uncommon disorder that causes damage to the peripheral nerves. These nerves send messages from the brain to the muscles, instructing the muscles to move. They also carry sensations such as pain from the body to the brain. The nerve damage often causes muscle weakness, often to the point of paralysis, and can cause problems with sensation, including pain, tingling, "crawling skin" or a certain amount of numbness.
Guillain-Barré syndrome can become a medical emergency if the weakness affects the chest muscles responsible for breathing. If chest muscles become paralyzed, the patient can die from lack of oxygen. People with this syndrome must be carefully monitored, usually in a hospital, to make sure that breathing and other vital functions are maintained.
Guillain-Barré syndrome is an autoimmune disorder in which the body's immune system attacks and destroys the myelin sheath, which wraps around long nerve cell bodies much like insulation around a water pipe. Myelin protects the nerve and helps to speed the transmission of electrical impulses down the nerve. If the myelin is destroyed, nerve impulses travel very slowly and can become disrupted. If muscles don't get proper stimulation through the nerves, they will not function properly.