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What is Guillain-Barre syndrome?

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Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare syndrome that is characterized by the body's immune system attacking its nerves, according to Mayo Clinic. The first symptoms of the disorder are tingling and weakness in the extremities. This feeling spreads rapidly and can eventually cause muscle weakness or even paralysis of the entire body and can be a medical emergency in the most severe cases.

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The cause of the syndrome is not fully understood, although it often follows on the heels of an infectious illness, such as the stomach flu or a respiratory infection. One risk factor for developing Guillain-Barre syndrome is infection with the bacterium Campylobacter jejuni. The symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome can last for a few weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most people recover fully, although the nerve damage caused by the syndrome can be long term. There have been instances of Guillain-Barre deaths, generally caused by breathing difficulties related to the disorder, although these are rare.

The CDC notes that occurrences of Guillain-Barre in the United States are rare, with only around 3,000 to 6,000 people developing it annually. People older than 50 are at an increased risk for the disorder, and those who received the 1976 influenza vaccine formulated to protect against a swine-flu virus are at a slightly increased risk to develop Guillain-Barre syndrome.

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