Neurosyphilis

Topic Overview

Neurosyphilis refers to the infection of the brain and spinal cord by the syphilis bacteria. This can lead to destruction in many areas of the nervous system, causing loss of function of a person's arms or legs, loss of vision, and altered mental abilities. Neurosyphilis can affect many different body systems and may develop over an extended period of time. Symptoms of neurosyphilis usually include:

  • Personality changes, such as confusion and irritability.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Vision problems.
  • Decreased ability to concentrate.
  • Memory loss.
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech.
  • Tremor of the fingers and lips.
  • Mild headaches.
  • Disorderly appearance.

Other symptoms may include:

  • A wide gait.
  • Numbness or tingling of the hands or feet.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Joint destruction because of lack of sensation (Charcot's joint).
  • Inability to control urine or stool (urinary or fecal incontinence).

Most forms of neurosyphilis take years to develop and can be life-threatening. It is most common in people 30 to 50 years old.1 People who are also infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) tend to develop signs of neurosyphilis sooner.

Antibiotic treatment cures the syphilis infection and stops the progress of neurosyphilis. But the damage that has already occurred may not be reversed.

Related Information

References

Citations

  1. Augenbraun M (2006). Syphilis and the nonvenereal treponematoses. In DC Dale, DD Federman, eds., ACP Medicine, section 7, chap. 6. New York: WebMD.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Devika Singh, MD, MPH - Infectious Disease
Last Revised September 29, 2011

Last Revised: September 29, 2011

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