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Tabes Dorsalis

What is Tabes Dorsalis?

Tabes dorsalis is a slow degeneration of the nerve cells and nerve fibers that carry sensory information to the brain. The degenerating nerves are in the dorsal columns of the spinal cord (the portion closest to the back of the body) and carry information that help maintain a person's sense of position.

What Causes Tabes Dorsalis?

Tabes dorsalis is the result of an untreated syphilis infection.

Symptoms of Tabes Dorsalis

Symptoms may not appear for some decades after the initial infection. Onset usually occurs during mid-life. The most common symptoms of tabes dorsalis are:

  • weakness
  • diminished reflexes
  • unsteady gait
  • progressive degeneration of the joints
  • loss of coordination
  • episodes of intense pain and disturbed sensation
  • personality changes
  • dementia
  • deafness
  • visual impairment
  • impaired response to light

Can Tabes Dorsalis be Treated?

Yes. Penicillin, administered intravenously, is the most common treatment of tabes dorsalis. Pain caused by tabes dorsalis can be treated with opiates, valproate, or carbamazepine. Patients may also require physical or rehabilitative therapy to deal with muscle wasting and weakness.

Can Tabes Dorsalis be Prevented?

Yes. Use of a condom will help prevent contracting syphilis. If syphilis occurs, it needs to be treated as soon as possible. If left untreated, syphilis can cause tabes dorsalis.

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