What Type of Respiratory Failure is Caused by Guillain-Barré Syndrome?


What is Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

Guillain-Barré Syndrome is thought to be a rare disorder and occurs when an individual’s immune system begins to attack the nervous system.


Someone who experiences this syndrome might begin feeling tingling or weakness in the hands and feet, initially. The weakness and tingling can spread rapidly and could result in an individual becoming paralyzed. In its most serious stage, this syndrome requires emergency medical attention.

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Other symptoms people might develop are:

  • Sensations in the toes, wrists or fingers
  • Leg weakness that might spread to the upper body
  • Difficulty with walking or climbing
  • Eye or facial movement issues
  • Speech problems
  • Inability to chew or swallow properly
  • Body cramping or aching that gets worse in the evening
  • Incontinence or bowel issues
  • Faster heart rate
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Breathing problems

Within 2-4 weeks after initial indications of Guillain-Barré Syndrome start, individuals generally experience their most substantial weakness.

Dig a little deeper on GBS

Types of Respiratory Failure Caused by Guillain-Barré Syndrome

Approximate 30% of people with Guillain-Barré Syndrome suffer from respiratory failure and are admitted into the hospital and placed into an intensive care unit (ICU). After they are admitted, they must receive invasive mechanical ventilation. Invasive means that the procedure performed on the patient involved putting a tube into the mouth and directing it through the throat and into the lungs.

Advanced weakness of the lungs (the inspiratory and the expiratory muscles) and their proper functioning is what leads to respiratory failure. Another serious symptom that patients might experience is pulmonary aspiration (also referred to as aspiration pneumonia). When that happens, the patient inhales stomach acids, food or saliva into each lung. Inhaling saliva, food or stomach acids into the lungs allows bacteria to enter and results in serious respiratory complications (like lung disease).

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Inspiratory muscles help with breathing (getting air into each lung), and expiratory muscles help push the air out of each lung.

Forms of Guillain-Barré Syndrome

When this disease was initially discovered and researched, it was considered to be a single illness, but other forms of the syndrome:

  • Acute Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyradiculoneuropathy (AIDP) – the top well-known type in the United States. The most recognized symptom of this disorder is muscle weakness. The muscle weakness begins in the lower extremities and eventually spreads to the higher parts of the body.
  • Miller Fisher Syndrome (MFS) – eye paralysis might begin – also accompanied by unsteady walk – happens to approximately 5% of individuals diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome in the United States.
  • Acute Motor Axonal Neuropathy (AMAN)/Acute Motor-Sensory Axonal Neuropathy – are common in the United States but more common in other nations (like Mexico, China and Japan).


The precise cause of this syndrome is mysterious. However, it is frequently preceded by a transmittable sickness like a lung infection or stomach flu. Guillain-Barré Syndrome typically appears within a few days or a few weeks after an individual suffers from a respiratory infection or an infection in the digestive system. It is rare, but some specialist believe that some cases might have been triggered after patients underwent surgical procedures or received vaccinations.

Risk Factors

This syndrome can affect anyone, regardless of age.  However, people who are at a higher risk might be men and younger adults. The disorder can be triggered by other illnesses or events such as:

  • Campylobacter (bacteria commonly found in improperly cooked poultry)
  • The flu
  • Cytomegalovirus (a common virus that affects individuals of all age groups)
  • Mononucleosis
  • Zika virus
  • Hepatitis (all types – A, B, C & E)
  • AIDS and HIV
  • Mycoplasma pneumonia
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma


Guillain-Barré Syndrome attacks the nervous system. The nervous system helps control body movements and mobility, so individuals with this syndrome might additionally experience some or all the following:

  • Blood clots
  • Pressure sores
  • Heart problems
  • Relapse – approximate 3% of individuals with this disorder could relapse

Serious early indications of Guillain-Barré Syndrome substantially increase the chance of severe long-lasting problems. Infrequently, death might happen from problems like:

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  • Respiratory distress condition
  • Heart attack/stroke

The attorneys at The Law Offices of Sadaka Associates are well-versed in cases involving Guillain-Barre Syndrome that occurs after vaccination.  If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome following a recent vaccination, contact our office for a free evaluation of your case.


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