What causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

The cause of GBS is inflammation of the peripheral nerves, which take messages to and from the skin and muscles to the brain and spinal cord. There is strong evidence that the cause is autoimmune. The immune system produces an immune response to an infection which unfortunately cross-reacts with the nerves. It usually reacts with and damages the outer coating sheath of the nerve fibers, called myelin. In more severely affected people, this damage also affects the central conducting core of the nerve, called the axon. In some people the axon is itself the main target of the autoimmune response.

The infections which trigger the autoimmune response include:

  • The bacterium, Campylobacter jejuni which causes diarrhea (often from undercooked infected chicken)
  • Viruses
  • Cytomegalovirus which causes respiratory infection, glandular fever and jaundice
  • Epstein-Barr virus which causes glandular fever
  • Hepatitis E which causes jaundice
  • Zika virus which causes fever, rash and joint pain


Less, usually much less, than 1 in a 1000 of people who catch these infections get GBS.






  • “Guillain-Barre Syndrome.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 18 May 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/guillain-barre-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20362793.

  • “Guillain-Barré Syndrome Fact Sheet.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Guillain-Barre-Syndrome-Fact-Sheet.

  • “Guillain-Barré Syndrome.” NORD (National Organization for Rare Disorders), rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/guillain-barre-syndrome/. 

  • Newman, Tim. “Guillain-Barré Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 19 Dec. 2017, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/167892.php.

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