Guillain-Barré Syndrome Recovery and Complications

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Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is a condition that causes rapid loss of muscle function in a patient due to a prior viral or bacterial infection, can trigger an array of different rehabilitation steps.

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Recovery time varies from patient to patient in Guillain-Barré syndrome. In fact, many individuals with this condition will experience significant symptoms of the disease such as muscle weakness in their limbs, difficulty walking without support, and fatigue.

The general expectation is that symptoms get steadily worse over a period of two weeks. The symptoms then plateau within four weeks. The majority of people who get the condition are back to normal health within a year with the recovery generally taking 6-12 months.

Some patients may have needed to stay in a hospital or a neurological rehabilitation unit for several months during recovery. At a further extreme, some patient’s recovery may take up to three years to complete. Each patient will need a carefully planned bespoke program that suits their particular symptoms during recovery.

For adults with the syndrome, 80% can walk independently after six months of diagnosis, with 60% regaining their motor strength back after a year. Furthermore, between 5% and 10% of Guillain-Barré patients will take longer than normal or may never fully recover.

Certain patients can be left unable to walk properly and will therefore require a wheelchair for the rest of their lives. At times, a patient can lose some of their ability to balance and no longer have the same sensing abilities. There may also be heart rhythm problems and difficulty maintaining oxygen levels. A number of different therapies can be employed to help the patient with their recovery.


If the patient’s mobility is significantly affected due to the effects of the autoimmune syndrome, the patient may need at least one course of physiotherapy. This approach is often used to help people to move their joints, bones, and tissues more easily after experiencing an injury or pain, and also provides some support against further injuries. It also can have a positive impact following diseases or syndromes that affect the brain, nervous system, lungs and breathing, as well as the heart and circulation.

The physiotherapist works with the patient to help them manipulate their limbs more confidently again, thus increasing their range of movement and improving their strength, posture, and motion. Several different kinds of physiotherapy can help such as aquatic therapy, exercise regimes, and manual therapy, where the therapist uses their hands to manipulate the affected areas of the body.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) 101

Speech pathology and dieticians

Some people’s speech (dysarthria) and swallowing (dysphagia) are affected by the syndrome because of the impact that it has on the muscles instrumental for these activities. There can also be breathing problems and nutritional issues because the patient has been unable to eat normally. The patient may need some assistance talking again with the help of a speech therapist and advice on what to eat from a nutritionist.

Occupational therapists

Not all people make a full physical recovery from the disease and therefore have to consider how to carry out once familiar activities differently. The disease may leave the patient without the full use of their arms and legs, for example, meaning that an entirely new way of living needs to be learned.

The patient may also need help to carry out certain tasks for work or home life. An occupational therapist can help to advise patients and guide them through any new procedures. The therapist can also break tasks down into smaller steps, show the patient alternative ways of completing activities, and introduce them to new devices that can assist them.


Guillain-Barré syndrome may have altered the patient’s life significantly. The patient may need mental health support to come to terms with any significant changes that result in them feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, and withdrawn. Psychologists can help the patient to mentally adjust to changes that have impacted their everyday life through a variety of talking therapies.


Further Reading

Last Updated: Nov 26, 2022

Deborah Fields

Written by

Deborah Fields

Deborah holds a B.Sc. degree in Chemistry from the University of Birmingham and a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism qualification from Cardiff University. She enjoys writing about the latest innovations. Previously she has worked as an editor of scientific patent information, an education journalist and in communications for innovative healthcare, pharmaceutical and technology organisations. She also loves books and has run a book group for several years. Her enjoyment of fiction extends to writing her own stories for pleasure.


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