Syphilitic myelopathy is a form of neurosyphilis, which is a complication of late or tertiary syphilis infection. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted, infectious disease. For information on the disease, see: Syphilis.
The condition called tabes dorsalis includes syphilitic myelopathy and other symptoms of nerve damage.
The infection damages the spinal cord and peripheral nervous tissue.
Syphilitic myelopathy is now very rare because syphilis is usually treated early in the disease. Blood tests can identify the disease in its silent (latent) form. People who donate blood and pregnant women are given these tests.
In syphilitic myelopathy, there are also symptoms of nervous system damage, including:
Physical examination may show:
Tests may include the following:
The goals of treatment are to cure the infection and slow the progression of the disorder. Treating the infection helps prevent new nerve damage and may reduce symptoms, but it does not reverse existing nerve damage.
For neurosyphilis, aqueous penicillin G (by injection) is the drug of choice. Some patients with penicillin allergies may have to be desensitized to penicillin so that they can be safely treated with it.
Symptoms of existing neurologic damage need to be treated. People who are unable to eat, dress themselves, or take care of themselves may need help. Rehabilitation, physical therapy, and occupational therapy may help people who have muscle weakness.
You may needanalgesics to control pain. These may include over-the-counter medications such as aspirin or acetaminophen for mild pain, or narcotics for more severe pain. Anti-epilepsy drugs such as carbamazepine may help treat lightning pains.
Progressive disability is possible if the disorder is left untreated.
Proper treatment and follow-up of primary syphilis infections reduces the risk of developing syphilitic myelopathy.
If you are sexually active, practice safe sex and always use a condom.
All pregnant women should be screened for syphilis.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Recommendations and Reports: Sexually Transmitted Diseases. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2006;55(RR-11).
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for syphilis infection in pregnancy: reaffirmation recommendation statement. Ann Fam Med. 2009;150:705-709.
Hook EW III. Syphilis. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 340.
Tremont EC. Treponema pallidum (syphilis). In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2009: chap 238.
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