What is Guillain-Barré Syndrome as Sufjan Steven is diagnosed with condition?

Watch: Sufjan Stevens hospitalised with Guillain-Barré syndrome

Sufjan Stevens has revealed he is learning to walk again after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome.

The Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter released a new single for his upcoming album, Javelin, last week, but has been notably absent from doing any promotion.

“One of the reasons … is bc I am in the hospital,” the 48-year-old wrote in a post shared to Instagram.

“Last month I woke up one morning and couldn’t walk. My hands, arms and legs were numb and tingling and I had no feeling, no mobility.”

After a series of tests, which he said included "MRIS, EMGs, cat scans, X-rays, spinal taps (!), echo-cardiograms, etc", Stevens revealed neurologists have diagnosed him with an auto immune disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Read more: Singer Sufjan Stevens ‘learning to walk again’ after rare Guillain-Barré Syndrome diagnosis (Euronews, 3-min read)

Pictured, singer Sufjan Stevens who has been diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome. (Getty Images)(Getty Images)
Singer Sufjan Stevens has been diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome. (Getty Images)

The indie-folk musician went on to say that he is currently receiving treatment for the condition, which has included having "immuno-hemoglobin infusions for five days".

"I am now undergoing intensive physical therapy/occupational therapy, strength building etc. to get my body back in shape and to learn to walk again," he continued.

"It’s a slow process, but they say I will 'recover', it just takes a lot of time, patience, and hard work."

Stevens ended his post by thanking people for the well wishes and praising health professionals who are helping him to recover. "They are living saints," he added.

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What is Guillain-Barré syndrome?

According to the NHS Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare but serious condition that affects the nerves, mainly in the feet, hands and limbs.

GBS is estimated to affect about one person in 100,000 each year and about 1,500 people in the UK every year.

According to the WHO (World Health Organisation), people of all ages can be affected, but it is more common in adults and in males.

Symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome often start in the feet and hands before spreading to the arms and legs and include:

  • numbness

  • pins and needles

  • muscle weakness

  • pain

  • problems with balance and co-ordination

In severe cases, patients struggle to swallow, walk or even breathe.

Symptoms may worsen over several days or weeks, before gradually improving.

Although unclear, Guillain-Barré syndrome is thought to come about when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s nerves. This can occur after an infection, like flu or food poisoning.

Read more: Congenital pneumonia: What is the rare disease Kate Ferdinand's daughter was born with? (Yahoo Life UK, 3-min read)

Treatment for Guillain-Barré syndrome

Most patients are treated in hospital via IV immunoglobulin; a therapy made from donated blood that helps bring the immune system under control.

Alternatively, plasma exchange filters the blood to remove the harmful substances that are attacking the nerves.

Some patients require breathing or feeding tubes, as well as pain relief.

The majority make a full recovery, however, one in five endure long term problems. These may include being unable to walk without assistance, weakness, balance issues or extreme fatigue.

Physiotherapy, occupational and speech therapy can also help.

One in 20 cases are fatal due to blood clots or breathing difficulties.