SymptomsBy Mayo Clinic staff
Guillain-Barre syndrome often begins with tingling and weakness starting in your feet and legs and spreading to your upper body and arms. These symptoms may begin — often not causing much notice — in your fingers and toes. In some people, symptoms begin in the arms or even the face. As the disorder progresses, muscle weakness can evolve into paralysis.
Signs and symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome may include:
- Prickling, "pins and needles" sensations in your fingers, toes or both
- Weakness or tingling sensations in your legs that spread to your upper body
- Unsteady walking or inability to walk
- Difficulty with eye movement, facial movement, speaking, chewing or swallowing
- Severe pain in your lower back
- Difficulty with bladder control or intestinal functions
- Rapid heart rate
- Low or high blood pressure
- Difficulty breathing
Most people with Guillain-Barre syndrome experience their most significant weakness within four weeks after symptoms begin. In some cases, signs and symptoms may progress very rapidly, with complete paralysis of legs, arms and breathing muscles over the course of a few hours.
When to see a doctor
Call your doctor if you have mild tingling in your toes or fingers that doesn't seem to be spreading or getting worse.
Seek emergency medical help if you have any of the following severe signs or symptoms:
- Tingling that started in your feet or toes and is now ascending through your body
- Tingling or weakness that's spreading rapidly
- Tingling that involves both your hands and feet
- Difficulty catching your breath
- Choking on saliva
Guillain-Barre syndrome is a serious disease that requires immediate hospitalization because of the rapid rate at which it worsens. The sooner appropriate treatment is started, the better the chance of a good outcome.
- Guillain-Barre syndrome. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/gbs/detail_gbs.htm?css=print. Accessed March 10, 2011.
- Ferri FF., et al. Guillain-Barre syndrome. In: Ferri FF. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2011: Instant Diagnosis and Treatment. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2011. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?eid=4-u1.0-B978-0-323-05610-6..C2009-0-38600-6--TOP&isbn=978-0-323-05610-6&about=true&uniqId=230100505-53. Accessed March 18, 2011.
- Soysal A, et al. Clinico-electrophysiological findings and prognosis of Guillain-Barre syndrome — 10 years' experience. Acta neurologica Scandinavica. 2011;123:181.
- Sejvar JJ, et al. Guillain-Barre syndrome and Fisher syndrome: Case definitions and guidelines for collection, analysis, and presentation of immunization safety data. Vaccine. 2011;29:599.
- Vriesendorp FJ. Clinical features and diagnosis of Guillain-Barre syndrome in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed March 10, 2011.
- Vriesendorp FJ. Pathogenesis of Guillain-Barre syndrome in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed March 10, 2011.
- Vriesendorp FJ. Treatment and prognosis of Guillain-Barre syndrome in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed March 10, 2011.
- Mauermann ML (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 21, 2011.