What is Neurosyphilis?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Untreated syphilis may cause infertility.
Untreated syphilis may cause infertility.

Neurosyphilis is a very serious infection that affects the brain and can also affect the spinal cord. It develops when a person has syphilis that isn't treated for years after the initial infection. In fact, a person may have syphilis for 10 to 20 years before neurosyphilis develops. The condition is life threatening, but it does not affect everyone who is diagnosed with syphilis.

Brain scans are used to detect neurosyphilis.
Brain scans are used to detect neurosyphilis.

There are four types of neurosyphilis: asymptomatic, meningovascular, tabes dorsalis, and general paresis. With the asymptomatic type, there are no recognizable symptoms. The affected person will have signs of the disease in his spinal fluid, however. The meningovascular form does cause symptoms, which include nerve and eye problems. Also, a person with this condition may have an increased risk of stroke, as the blood vessels may be damaged.

Syphilis transmitted from mother to child during the birthing process can be fatal for the newborn.
Syphilis transmitted from mother to child during the birthing process can be fatal for the newborn.

A person with tabes dorsalis neurosyphilis has damage to the spinal cord, which gradually worsens. Eventually, the affected person will lose her ability to walk. General paresis is marked by damage to the brain cells, which may cause paralysis as well as seizures and a deteriorating mental state. With this condition, parts of the brain and spinal cord may become inflamed, causing a wide range of neurological issues.

Blood tests are used to diagnose syphilis.
Blood tests are used to diagnose syphilis.

Besides paralysis and seizures, general paresis can cause tremors, headaches, mood and personality changes, muscle weakness, and strokes. It may also lead to vision problems, vertigo, depression, incontinence, and dementia. A person with this type of neurosyphilis may have abnormal muscle contractions and even muscle atrophy.

Blood tests are used to diagnose syphilis. These tests look for substances that are created by the bacteria that cause the disease. For neurosyphilis, however, the patient's spinal fluid must be tested. Additionally, lumbar punctures, CT scans, MRIs, and cerebral angiograms are used to detect problems that affect the nervous system.

General paresis can cause vertigo and vision disturbances.
General paresis can cause vertigo and vision disturbances.

Treatment typically involves penicillin, an antibiotic. For one treatment plan, the patient receives penicillin injections into a vein for the first 10 days. After that, another form of the antibiotic may be injected into the muscle for another three-week period. Another treatment plan involves taking the antibiotic orally four times each day while simultaneously submitting to injections into a muscle for a total of 10 days. After that, another form of the antibiotic would be injected into a muscle for a total of three weeks.

People who have had a stroke may have difficulty walking.
People who have had a stroke may have difficulty walking.

Recovery from neurosyphilis depends on how soon it is discovered and how severe it is when treatment starts. Follow-up tests are necessary at three, six, 12, and 24 months after treatment. These tests are necessary to make sure the disease is truly gone. When left untreated, neurosyphilis can lead to death.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a InfoBloom writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a InfoBloom writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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    • Untreated syphilis may cause infertility.
      Untreated syphilis may cause infertility.
    • Brain scans are used to detect neurosyphilis.
      Brain scans are used to detect neurosyphilis.
    • Syphilis transmitted from mother to child during the birthing process can be fatal for the newborn.
      Syphilis transmitted from mother to child during the birthing process can be fatal for the newborn.
    • Blood tests are used to diagnose syphilis.
      Blood tests are used to diagnose syphilis.
    • General paresis can cause vertigo and vision disturbances.
      General paresis can cause vertigo and vision disturbances.
    • People who have had a stroke may have difficulty walking.
      People who have had a stroke may have difficulty walking.
    • CT scans may be helpful in detecting problems that affect the nervous system.
      CT scans may be helpful in detecting problems that affect the nervous system.