The first symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) include paresthesia (numbness or tingling) in the toes and fingers with progressive weakness in the arms and legs over the next few days. Some individuals experience paresthesia only in the toes and legs, while others only experience symptoms on one side of the body. GBS generally progresses quickly. Most individuals experience the most significant weakness in the legs, arms, chest, and other areas within three weeks of the start of this disorder. In some cases, the signs and symptoms of GBS may progress very rapidly with complete paralysis of legs, arms, and breathing muscles over the course of a few hours.
If an individual is at risk for developing GBS and symptoms appear, 911 should be called immediately and a doctor seen as soon as possible.
The symptoms may be mild, causing only slight difficulty in walking, requiring crutches or a walking stick. If GBS is mild, the signs and symptoms may not extend beyond a feeling of general weakness.
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 dependant on a ventilator. If the swallowing muscles are also affected, a feeding tube may be needed.
The signs and symptoms of GBS may also include difficulty with eye movement, facial movement, and speaking, a slow heart rate, or low blood pressure. Difficulty with bladder control or intestinal functions may also occur.
GBS may improve without treatment within a few weeks and some individuals initially may think the signs and symptoms are simply due to the flu or a cold. The signs and symptoms of GBS may last days, weeks, or months before muscle sensation begins to return. Regaining strength and functioning is slow, sometimes requiring months or years. However, most individuals with GBS return to normal within months.
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