Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Women's Health

Font Size

FDR Didn't Have Polio?

Late President's Paralysis Likely Caused by Guillain-Barre Syndrome
WebMD Health News

Oct. 31, 2003 -- A mystery has been brewing about late president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the paralysis that struck him in midlife.

A group of researchers has found evidence that Guillain-Barre syndrome -- not polio - may have been the cause of Roosevelt's (FDR's) paralysis.

The news comes a half-century after FDR's presidency, which spanned the Great Depression of the 1930s and most of World War II. It is published this month in the Journal of Medical Biography.

The paralysis struck him in 1921, when FDR was 39 years old, writes researcher Armond S. Goldman, MD, emeritus professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

It happened while FDR was vacationing with his family on Campobello Island, New Brunswick. He had fallen into the cold waters of the Bay of Fundy on Aug. 9. The next day he sailed, spent several hours helping put out a fire, even jogged a few miles, which usually left him "glowing," he said later. But that night, he went to bed early, chilled and very tired.

The next morning, one leg was weak; by afternoon, it was paralyzed. Quickly, the paralysis overtook all his extremities, and although he regained function of the upper limbs, his legs never recovered.

At the time, doctors diagnosed the disease as poliomyelitis, which was at epidemic proportions in the northeast U.S., where FDR lived -- even though few adults over age 30 had contracted polio. Polio was one of few known causes of paralysis.

But many of FDR's symptoms did not match polio -- they were more typical of Guillain-Barre syndrome: the progression of his paralysis, the numbness, extreme prolonged pain, and the pattern of recovery from the paralysis.

Whereas patients with mild to moderate Guillain-Barre syndrome usually recover entirely, those with severe disease who are not treated by modern methods often experience permanent paralysis, notes Goldman.

The mystery of FDR's illness will likely never be completely solved, since several diagnostic tests were not available at the time, he says. Even if Guillain-Barre syndrome had been diagnosed in 1921, Roosevelt's outcome would have been the same since treatment was not discovered until the late 20th century.

Today on WebMD

hands on abdomen
Test your knowledge.
womans hand on abdomen
Are you ready for baby?
birth control pills
Learn about your options.
Is it menopause or something else?
woman in bathtub
bp app on smartwatch and phone
estrogen gene

Send yourself a link to download the app.

Loading ...

Please wait...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Blood pressure check
hot water bottle on stomach
Attractive young woman standing in front of mirror