Seventy-nine patients with acute Guillain-Barré syndrome were seen during a 6-year period. Twenty-one were admitted to a respiratory intensive care unit, where they remained for 58 +/- 26 days (range 14 to 105 days). Thirteen patients required nasotracheal intubation followed by tracheostomy and mechanical ventilation. The tracheostomy tube was in place for an average of 50 +/- 27 days (range 10 to 104 days). Four patients had complications of tracheostomy; two of these were significant, and one of them led directly to the patient's death. There were no complications due to mechanical ventilation, from which 11 patients were successfully weaned after a mean period of 37 +/- 29 days (range 7 to 93 days). Three of the 79 patients (3.8%) died of complications of their disease or its treatment. Respiratory failure in this condition is protracted and its complications are mainly those of prolonged endotracheal intubation with a tracheostomy tube.