Symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome 

Symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome can develop quickly over a few hours. The muscle weakness often gets progressively worse within a few days or weeks.

The first symptoms usually develop two to four weeks after a minor infection, such as a cold, sore throat or gastroenteritis (an infection of the stomach and large intestine).

Symptoms often start in your feet and hands before spreading to your arms and legs. Initially, you may have:

  • pain, tingling and numbness 
  • progressive muscle weakness
  • co-ordination problems and unsteadiness (you may be unable to walk unaided)

The weakness usually affects both sides of your body and may get worse over a period of several days.

In mild cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, your muscles may only be slightly weakened. However, in more severe cases, the muscle weakness can progress to:

  • temporary paralysis of the legs, arms and face
  • temporary paralysis of the respiratory muscles
  • blurred or double vision
  • difficulty speaking 
  • difficulty chewing or swallowing (dysphagia), resulting in the need to be fed through a tube
  • difficulty with digestion or bladder control
  • fluctuations in heart rate or blood pressure

Some people with Guillain-Barré syndrome don't experience any pain, while others have severe pain in their spine, arms and legs.

When to seek immediate medical assistance

See your GP if you notice any of the early symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome, such as pain, numbness or muscle weakness.

However, seek immediate medical assistance if you experience:

  • difficulty breathing
  • difficulty swallowing
  • fainting (loss of consciousness)
  • temporary paralysis of the limbs or face

Page last reviewed: 17/12/2014

Next review due: 17/12/2016