Guillain-Barre syndrome is not hereditary or contagious. What causes GBS is not known; however, in about half of all cases the onset of the syndrome follows a viral or bacterial infection, such as the following:

  • Campylobacteriosis (usually from eating undercooked poultry)
  • Flu (influenza), common cold
  • Gastrointestinal viral infection
  • HIV
  • Infectious mononucleosis
  • Porphyria (rare disease of red blood cells)
  • Viral hepatitis

A small number of cases have been known to occur after a medical procedure, such as minor surgery.

Guillain-Barre syndrome may be an autoimmune disorder in which the body produces antibodies that damage the myelin sheath that surrounds peripheral nerves. The myelin sheath is a fatty substance that surrounds axons. It increases the speed at which signals travel along the nerves.

Publication Review By: Gordon R. Kelley, M.D.

Published: 01 Jan 2000

Last Modified: 17 Sep 2015