Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a rare autoimmune disorder affecting about 1 in 100,000 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While GBS is more common in men and adults older than 50, anyone can develop it, the agency says.
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An estimated 3,000-6,000 people develop GBS each year in the U.S.
In GBS, an individual’s immune system damages the nerves, causing muscle weakness and sometimes even paralysis.
GBS symptoms can last from a few weeks to up to several years.
A woman in a car feels tingling in her hands (iStock)
While most people fully recover from GBS, some are left with permanent nerve damage and others have died.
Several things are known to trigger GBS and about two-thirds of people with the disorder had diarrhea or a respiratory illness several weeks before developing symptoms.
Infection with Campylobacter jejuni is one of the most common risk factors for GBS and people can also develop it after some other infections including flu, cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus and Zika virus.
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“Very rarely, people have developed GBS in the days or weeks after receiving certain vaccines,” the CDC wrote.
Over the summer, reports examined the link between COVID-19 and GBS, and the Food and Drug Administration warned about the potential risk of GBS following a shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
While GBS is not contagious, outbreaks of germs associated with it can lead to clusters of people with GBS.
Symptoms of the disorder include weakness or tingling sensations in both legs, often spreading to the arms and upper body.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke explains additional symptoms include difficulty with eye muscles and vision, difficulty swallowing, speaking or chewing, severe pain at night, coordination problems and unsteadiness, problems with bladder control or digestion and abnormal heartbeat/rate or blood pressure.
Symptoms can heighten, progressing over hours, days or weeks – though weakness typically peaks within the first two weeks after symptoms appear.
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The Mayo Clinic reports GBS is known to occur in several forms, including the most common acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (AIDP), Miller Fisher syndrome (MFS) and acute motor axonal neuropathy (AMAN) and acute motor-sensory axonal neuropathy (AMSAN).
Recovery can take as long as years.
Common treatments for GBS include plasma exchange and high-dose immunoglobulin therapy.