Treating Guillain-Barré syndrome 

Treatment for Guillain-Barré syndrome can reduce your symptoms and help speed up your recovery.

You'll be treated in hospital, where your condition and breathing will be closely monitored. Depending on how severe your condition is, you may be admitted to:

  • a general ward
  • a neurology ward  a ward that specialises in treating neurological conditions 
  • an intensive care unit (ICU)  a special ward providing intensive care for people who are critically ill or in an unstable condition
  • a high-dependency unit (HDU)  one step down from an ICU, more intense treatment is given here than in a general ward

If you're having difficulty breathing, you may be put on a ventilator (a machine that assists with breathing). Around a quarter of people with Guillain-Barré syndrome need to use a ventilator.

Two main treatments are used in cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome:

  • intravenous immunoglobulin
  • plasma exchange (plasmapheresis)

These treatments target the antibodies (infection-fighting proteins) in your blood that are reacting to your peripheral nerves and damaging them.

Intravenous immunoglobulin is slightly safer and easier to give than plasma exchange. However, both treatments are equally effective. They both need to be given during the first few weeks of your symptoms.

Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg)

Immunoglobulin is another name for antibodies. Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system to destroy harmful bacteria and viruses. The immune system is the body's natural defence against illness and infection.

During IVIg, healthy immunoglobulin is taken from blood donors and given to you intravenously (directly into a vein). The healthy antibodies block and destroy the harmful antibodies attacking your nerves. You will usually receive a dose of IVIg every day for around five days.

Plasma exchange (plasmapheresis)

Plasma is the fluid found in blood that transports blood cells and platelets around the body. It contains a number of substances, including proteins.

During plasma exchange, you'll be connected to a machine that removes some of your blood. The plasma is separated from the blood cells and removed. The blood cells are returned to your body without the harmful plasma cells that attack the nerves. Your blood cells will produce healthy plasma to replace the harmful plasma that was removed.

Depending on the severity of your condition, you may need several sessions of plasma exchange.

Read more about plasma exchange.

Monitoring your condition

While being treated for Guillain-Barré syndrome, you may need to spend several weeks or months in hospital. This is so you can be closely monitored and your breathing, heart rate and blood pressure can be regularly checked.

You may be given painkillers if you're in pain. If you develop a problem with your heart rate or blood pressure you may need further medication.

Once you start to recover, you may be moved to a general hospital ward or a rehabilitation ward before being discharged. You should continue receiving treatment to help your recovery.

Read more about recovering from Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids aren't recommended for the treatment of Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Although corticosteroids are often used to reduce inflammation, there's no evidence to suggest they offer a significant benefit in treating this condition.

Support group

To speak to someone about Guillain-Barré syndrome, you can contact the GAIN charity. Their free helpline number is 0800 374 803.


Page last reviewed: 17/12/2014

Next review due: 17/12/2016