GBS Symptoms and Complications

Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is an autoimmune disorder with well-established links to the flu shot and tetanus vaccinations (including DT, DTaP, DTP, Td and Tdap). Anyone who has recently received a flu shot or tetanus vaccine and who is experiencing the symptoms of GBS should seek medical attention promptly, as delays in diagnosis and treatment have the potential to lead to long-lasting complications.

What are the Symptoms of GBS?

For most people, the earliest warning signs of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (or a GBS variant) are weakness, pain or tingling and numbness that begins at the legs an moves upward. Unlike the short-term pain resulting directly from a vaccine injection, this pain does not go away. Instead, it usually gets progressively worse, and with many variants of GBS it will be felt for weeks or months throughout different parts of the body.

With most variants of GBS, this initial pain will be accompanied by tingling sensations and severe weakness that starts in the legs and feet. Other common symptoms resulting from the immune system’s attack on the nervous system and the respiratory complications that often follow include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty maintaining balance
  • Difficulty with bowel movements
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Loss of eye and facial control
  • Loss of motor control and reflexes (often resulting in difficulty walking or an unsteady gait)
  • Sudden changes in blood pressure
  • Sudden changes in heart rate

Some variants of GBS have additional characteristic symptoms. For example, individuals diagnosed with Miller Fischer Variant will often experience difficulty with vision, while drowsiness is a common symptom of Bickerstaff’s brainstem encephalitis (BBE).

What are Some Possible Complications from GBS?

Guillain-Barre Syndrome almost always carries a risk for long-term complications, and the specific risks associated with different forms of GBS vary. In many cases, individuals diagnosed with GBS and its variants will experience residual effects for months or years. These can include:

  • Chronic pain (particularly with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP)
  • Difficulty with bowel and bladder control
  • Increased or decreased blood pressure
  • Burning, numbness, tingling and other sensory abnormalities
  • Muscle weakness in the limbs and extremities

Paralysis is a significant concern in many cases of vaccine-related GBS. The damage to the body’s nerve cells will often cause temporary partial paralysis, although permanent and near-total paralysis is possible. Some patients may experience complications from long-term respiratory dysfunction, including difficulty breathing and an abnormal heart rate. These should generally be treated as medical emergencies.

Finally, since there is currently no known cure for Guillain-Barre Syndrome, individuals diagnosed with GBS and its variants are susceptible to relapse. Even with consistent treatment, some patients will experience a relapse of symptoms years after the initial diagnosis. Due to the risks associated with GBS’s symptoms, any indication of a possible relapse should be treated with great caution.

Seek Help for Vaccine-Related GBS

If you have been diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome following an flu shot or tetanus immunization, we encourage you to contact us for a free consultation. You may be entitled to compensation for your medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering; and, if so, legal representation can be provided at no financial cost to you. For more information, call our national law offices at (202) 800-1711 or submit your information online to schedule an appointment with vaccine lawyer Leah V. Durant.

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