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Guillain-Barre syndrome, what is it, What causes it, and how can we treat it?

With more and more clients presenting with Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS), I thought I would take a deeper look into this condition that I have never heard of as much as we are seeing and hearing of in the past 2 years.

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a rare disorder (autoimmune disease) where the body's immune system damages nerves. The damage to the nerves causes muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. While its cause is not fully understood, the syndrome often follows infection with a virus or bacteria.

Guillain-Barré syndrome is thought to be caused by a problem with the immune system, the body's natural defense against illness and infection. Normally the immune system attacks any germs that get into the body. But in people with Guillain-Barré syndrome, something goes wrong, and it mistakenly attacks the nerves.

Symptoms can include- Muscle weakness of the arms and legs, Pins and needles, Unsteadiness and difficulty with walking, Paralysis, Difficulty with feeling and moving the face, Difficulty with swallowing, and Breathing issues.

So, what has changed in the past few years that we are seeing more and more clients with this condition?

According to the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, approximately 2-8 in every 100,000 Australias now have GBS(1). Since the mandatory Covid vaccination program there has been an increase in GBS and early research is showing significant data that found COVID-19 vaccines, consistently elevated the risk of GBS within 21 days after vaccination, 209 reports of GBS documented symptoms (70.8%); 253 GBS reports documented symptoms within 42 days after vaccination (85.8%) (3). Furthermore, people in Australia have died after developing GBS in cases that may be related to COVID vaccination the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has revealed (4). The TGA and other international vaccine regulators have shown a growing body of evidence of a possible link between GBS and Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca) (5).

How can we treat GBS?

There are a number of treatments for GBS. Research shows that aerobic exercise, such as walking on a treadmill for at least 20 minutes 3 times per week, or cycling in particular, as cycling is an off-foot exercise that doesn't provide impact to the muscles and joints which are often painful with GBS(6). These exercises may help improve aerobic capacity, reduce fatigue, and optimize healing (6). IV immunoglobulin therapy and plasma exchange, often coupled with physical therapy to regain strength and movement are also common treatments for GBS.

Other therapies such as Infrared therapy and compression therapy may have some merits in helping people with GBS as well, as Infrared therapy has been used for decades to treat autoimmune diseases. The effect of the heat on nerve endings acts in a soothing way, which eases the nerves carrying pulses toward the brain and/or spine. This increased healthy blood flow can help lessen the pain sensation and the pressure on nerves, providing relief from pain, relaxing muscles, and giving better blood flow throughout the body (7). The other benefits of using infrared saunas are that they help reduce inflammation and promote the detoxification of the body's harmful toxins (7). Furthermore, Lymphatic drainage massages using compression therapy devices can help promote lymphatic system flow, and this can also help your body detoxify and can release blockages in the lymphatic system.


There is no known cure for GBS, but some therapies can reduce its severity and increase a patient’s recovery and quality of life such as plasmapheresis and intravenous human immunoglobin, which are the therapies most commonly used. With adjunct therapies such as compression therapy and infrared therapy that are commonly used for autoimmune disease. Time will tell through more research and anecdotal evidence if these adjunct therapies can assist in a better quality of life, but the early signs are displaying they are reducing pain and giving GBS sufferers with some reprieve from this debilitating condition.


2. Van den Berg, B., Walgaard, C., Drenthen, J., Fokke, C., Jacobs, B. C., & Van Doorn, P. A. (2014). Guillain–Barré syndrome: pathogenesis, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. Nature Reviews Neurology, 10(8), 469-482.

3. Hanson KE, Goddard K, Lewis N, Fireman B, Myers TR, Bakshi N, Weintraub E, Donahue JG, Nelson JC, Xu S, Glanz JM, Williams JTB, Alpern JD, Klein NP. Incidence of Guillain-Barré Syndrome After COVID-19 Vaccination in the Vaccine Safety Datalink. JAMA Netw Open. 2022 Apr 1;5(4):e228879. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.8879. PMID: 35471572; PMCID: PMC9044108.

5. Rachael McGuire (SAEFVIC Research Nurse, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute) and Nigel Crawford (Director SAEFVIC, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute)

7. Simatos Arsenault N, Vincent PO, Yu BH, Bastien R, Sweeney A. Influence of Exercise on Patients with Guillain-Barré Syndrome: A Systematic Review. Physiother Can. 2016;68(4):367-376. doi: 10.3138/ptc.2015-58. PMID: 27904236; PMCID: PMC5125499.

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