This NFL Player Was Diagnosed With Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Here's What That Means




Yesterday on Twitter, Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Travis Frederick revealed that he’s been diagnosed with the autoimmune disease Guillain-Barré syndrome. The 27-year-old NFL player shared a statement detailing a weeks-long “examination and discovery process.” In the previous 48 hours, he wrote, he had undergone two treatments for the condition.


Frederick hasn’t missed a football game in the past five years, according to ESPN, but now he's facing some time off the gridiron. “My doctors have told me that it is not possible to determine a time table for a return to the field right now, but I am hopeful that I will be able to play as soon as possible,” he tweeted.

So what exactly is Guillain-Barré syndrome?

Guillain-Barré syndrome or GBS, occurs when the body mistakenly attacks its own nerves, specifically in the peripheral nervous system, which connects the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body. This can result in a wide range of nerve-related symptoms, including tingling, pricking, or pins and needles sensations; muscle weakness; difficulty walking, speaking, chewing, or swallowing; pain; and, in severe cases, paralysis, which can become life-threatening if breathing is affected.

The worst GBS symptoms are likely to emerge within the first few days and up to four weeks after a person notices that something is wrong, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). After that, symptoms usually stabilize, but recovery can progress slowly over a few weeks or even a few years.

Earlier this month, Frederick sought medical care for “stingers” in his neck. “I have been told that the illness was detected at a fairly early stage,” he tweeted. In general, most people don’t seek out medical attention until they’re already experiencing weakness on both sides of their body, according to the NINDS.

As with many autoimmune diseases, experts don’t fully understand what causes GBS, but it’s thought to be triggered by an infection or surgery. Campylobacter infections (a common cause of food poisoning) are thought to be the most common trigger of Guillain-Barré, according to the Mayo Clinic. The flu, Epstein-Barr virus (best known as the cause of mono), and even Zika have also been linked to GBS.

While many autoimmune conditions are more likely to strike women, men are more likely to have GBS, states the Mayo Clinic, although it can affect anyone.