Complications of Guillain-Barré syndrome 

Some people won't recover completely from Guillain-Barré syndrome and experience long-term complications.

Possible complications include:

  • not being able to walk unaided (for example, needing a wheelchair)
  • loss of sensation (sensory ataxia) that may cause a lack of co-ordination
  • loss of balance
  • muscle weakness in your arms or legs
  • problems with your sense of touch known as dysaesthesia, which may be felt as a burning or tingling sensation

It's estimated around 20% of people with Guillain-Barré syndrome still experience some muscle weakness after three years.

Some people with Guillain-Barré syndrome also have persistent fatigue (extreme tiredness).

A small number of people may experience a relapse of symptoms such as muscle weakness and tingling years later.

Life-threatening complications

There's a small chance (about one in 20) of dying from Guillain-Barré syndrome. This is usually the result of complications developing during the first few weeks of the condition. For example:

  • respiratory failure  where your lungs are unable to provide enough oxygen for the rest of your body
  • infections  particularly respiratory infections in people who are on a ventilator (a machine that assists with breathing)
  • heart rhythm disorders  including cardiac arrest
  • bowel obstruction

The risk is increased in elderly people and people with certain underlying conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Page last reviewed: 17/12/2014

Next review due: 17/12/2016