IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Guillain Barre Syndrome

19th November, 2020 Health

Context: In a rare complication, some patients infected with Covid-19 have been found suffering from Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS). In India, such cases have been reported since August.

What is Guillain Barre Syndrome?

  • It is a very rare autoimmune disorder.
  • The immune system, in an attempt to kill the coronavirus, accidentally starts attacking the peripheral nervous system.
  • The peripheral nervous system is a network of nerves that lead from the brain and spinal cord to different parts of the body.
  • Attacking them can affect limb functions.
  • The syndrome’s first symptoms are a tingling or itching sensation in the skin, followed by muscle weakness, pain and numbness.
  • The symptoms may emerge first in feet and hands. A person then starts experiencing reflex loss and paralysis, which may be temporary, but can last for 6-12 months or longer.
  • With Covid-19 a year old, it is still difficult to assess the nature of permanency GBS in such cases may present.
  • GBS is caused by bacteria or viral infection.
  • In the past, patients of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome showed GBS symptoms, as did those infected with Zika, HIV, Herpes virus and Campylobacter jejuni.

Guillain Barre Syndrome and Covid-19

  • Covid-19 is known to affect digestive, cardiac and kidney functions.
  • It is also known that some –– not all –– patients are prone to neurological problems if they contract the virus.
  • The virus can cause memory fog, anxiety, headache and depression if it attacks parts of the brain which form the central nervous system.
  • In all these cases, the virus attacks the organs or tissues directly leading to the complication.
  • But in some cases, it can have an indirect effect. It can trigger an immune response so powerful that the body’s peripheral nervous system can come under attack.


  • Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) and sometimes plasma therapy helps recovery in patients with GBS.
  • Some patients may develop severe complications and require intensive care treatment or ventilator support.