About Guillain-Barré Syndrome

From the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Campylobacter and other foodborne illness outbreaks.

Chapter 2

Symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome

GBS initially causes weakness or tingling sensations in the legs. These symptoms can progress up the body and in severity, and can lead to paralysis.

The first symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome include varying degrees of weakness or tingling sensations in the legs. The weakness and abnormal sensations may spread to the arms and upper body. These symptoms can increase in intensity until certain muscles cannot be used at all and, when severe, the affected person is almost totally paralyzed. In these cases the disorder is life threatening--potentially interfering with breathing and, at times, with blood pressure or heart rate--and is considered a medical emergency. Bladder dysfunction and constipation may occur. Fever is not present at the initial presentation of Guillain-Barré syndrome.

After the first clinical manifestations of Guillain-Barré syndrome, the symptoms can progress over the course of hours, days, or weeks. Most people reach the stage of greatest weakness within the first two weeks after symptoms appear, and by the third week of the illness 90 percent of affected individuals are at their weakest.

Persons with Guillain-Barré syndrome are often hospitalized and closely monitored while diagnostic tests are performed. This is because 10-30 percent may eventually require mechanical ventilation and intensive care due to interference with breathing. Although both sides of the body are reported to have symmetrical involvement, a lack of symmetry of clinical and electrophysiological findings has been reported. [2]

In contrast to the relatively uniform speed of recovery among those with acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (AIDP), two patterns of recovery are found with acute motor axonal neuropathy; AMAN. Some individuals recover quickly within days and others experience slow and poor recovery. Acute motor and sensory axonal neuropathy (AMSAN) tends to be associated with severe illness and slow recovery.

What are the serious and long-term risks of Guillain-Barré syndrome?

Guillain-Barré syndrome can be a devastating disorder because of its sudden and unexpected onset. In addition, recovery is not necessarily quick. Affected persons usually reach the point of greatest weakness or paralysis days or weeks after the first symptoms occur. Symptoms then stabilize at this level for a period of days, weeks, or, sometimes, months. The recovery period may be as little as a few weeks or as long as a few years. About 30 percent of those with Guillain-Barré syndrome still have residual weakness after three years. About 3 percent may suffer a relapse of muscle weakness and tingling sensations many years after the initial attack.

Those affected by Guillain-Barré syndrome face not only physical difficulties, but emotionally painful periods as well. It is often extremely difficult for patients to adjust to sudden paralysis and dependence on others for help with routine daily activities. Patients sometimes need psychological counseling to help them adapt.

Previous Chapter

What is Guillain-Barré syndrome?

Next Chapter

How is Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) diagnosed?

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