Guillain-Barré syndrome usually affects the feet or hands first, before spreading to other parts of the body.

It often starts a few days or weeks after an infection, such as a stomach bug or flu.

Early symptoms

Symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome usually develop over hours or days and tend to start in your feet and hands before spreading to your arms and legs.

At first you may have:

  • numbness
  • pins and needles
  • muscle weakness
  • pain
  • problems with balance and co-ordination

These symptoms usually affect both sides of the body at the same time.

Later symptoms

The symptoms may continue to get worse over the next few days or weeks.

Some people are only mildly affected, but others may have:

  • difficulty walking without assistance
  • an inability to move the legs, arms and/or face (paralysis)
  • difficulty breathing
  • blurred or double vision
  • difficulty speaking 
  • problems swallowing or chewing
  • difficulty peeing, and constipation
  • persistent and/or severe pain

Guillain-Barré syndrome usually reaches its most severe point within four weeks. It may then remain stable for a few weeks or months before gradually improving.

Get medical help

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

Call 999 for an ambulance or go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department immediately if someone:

  • has difficulty breathing, swallowing or speaking
  • can't move their limbs or face
  • faints and doesn't regain consciousness within two minutes

This is a medical emergency and the person needs to be seen in hospital as soon as possible.

Read more about how Guillain-Barré syndrome is diagnosed and how Guillain-Barré syndrome is treated.

Page last reviewed: 10/01/2017

Next review due: 10/01/2020