Background: Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is generally considered to be monophasic, but recurrences do occur in a presently undefined subgroup of patients.
Objectives: To determine which subgroup of patients develops a recurrence and to establish whether preceding infections and neurological symptoms are similar in subsequent episodes.
Methods: A recurrence was defined as two or more episodes that fulfilled the NINCDS criteria for GBS, with a minimum time between episodes of two months (when fully recovered in between) or four months (when only partially recovered). We excluded patients with a treatment-related fluctuation or chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy with acute onset. The clinical characteristics of recurrent GBS patients were compared with those of 476 non-recurrent patients.
Results: We identified 32 recurrent GBS patients, who had a total of 81 episodes. The clinical symptoms in a first episode were similar to the following episodes in individual patients, being GBS or its variant Miller Fisher syndrome (MFS) but never both. While neurological symptoms in subsequent episodes were often similar, the severity of the symptoms and the nature of the preceding infections varied. Recurrent patients (mean age 34.2 years) were younger than non-recurrent patients (mean age 46.9; p = 0.001) and more often had MFS (p = 0.049) or milder symptoms (p = 0.011).
Conclusions: Genetic or immunological host factors may play an important role in recurrent GBS, since these patients can develop similar symptoms after different preceding infections. Recurrences occur more frequently in patients under 30, with milder symptoms and in MFS.