The first symptoms of GBS are usually numbness or tingling (paresthesia) in the toes and fingers, with progressive weakness in the arms and legs over the next few days. Some patients experience paresthesia only in their toes and legs; others only experience symptoms on one side of the body.

The symptoms may stay in this phase, causing only mild difficulty in walking, requiring crutches or a walking stick. However, sometimes the illness progresses, leading to complete paralysis of the arms and legs. About one quarter of the time, the paralysis continues up the chest and freezes the breathing muscles, leaving the patient dependent on a ventilator. If the swallowing muscles are also affected, a feeding tube may be needed.

In chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyradicalneuropathy (CIDP), the course of illness is longer and respiratory failure is much more unlikely.

Publication Review By: Gordon R. Kelley, M.D.

Published: 01 Jan 2000

Last Modified: 17 Sep 2015