To be, or not to be… Guillain-Barré Syndrome

Autoimmun Rev. 2021 Dec;20(12):102983. doi: 10.1016/j.autrev.2021.102983. Epub 2021 Oct 28.


Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) is currently the most frequent cause of acute flaccid paralysis on a global scale, being an autoimmune disorder wherein demyelination of the peripheral nerves occurs. Its main clinical features are a symmetrical ascending muscle weakness with reduced osteotendinous reflexes and variable sensory involvement. GBS most commonly occurs after an infection, especially viral (including COVID-19), but may also transpire after immunization with certain vaccines or in the development of specific malignancies. Immunoglobulins, plasmapheresis, and glucocorticoids represent the principal treatment modalities, however patients with severe disease progression may require supportive therapy in an intensive care unit. Due to its symptomology, which overlaps with numerous neurological and infectious illnesses, the diagnosis of GBS may often be misattributed to pathologies that are essentially different from this syndrome. Moreover, many of these require specific treatment methods distinct to those recommended for GBS, in lack of which the prognosis of the patient is drastically affected. Such diseases include exposure to toxins either environmental or foodborne, central nervous system infections, metabolic or serum ion alterations, demyelinating pathologies, or even conditions amenable to neurosurgical intervention. This extensive narrative review aims to systematically and comprehensively tackle the most notable and challenging differential diagnoses of GBS, emphasizing on the clinical discrepancies between the diseases, the appropriate paraclinical investigations, and suitable management indications.

Keywords: Areflexia; Ataxia; Demyelinating disease; Differential diagnosis; Flaccid paralysis; Guillan-Barre syndrome (GBS); Polyneuropathy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Guillain-Barre Syndrome* / diagnosis
  • Guillain-Barre Syndrome* / etiology
  • Guillain-Barre Syndrome* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Muscle Weakness
  • SARS-CoV-2