Guillain-Barré syndrome : Symptoms

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.

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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.

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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.

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