We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is Tabes Dorsalis?

By D. Jeffress
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGEEK is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGEEK, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Tabes dorsalis is a potentially debilitating condition that affects the brain, spinal cord, and nerves throughout the body. It occurs when a syphilis infection goes untreated for several years. People with the disorder can experience a loss of touch sensation and reflexes, poor coordination, and sharp, sudden muscle pains. Major complications such as dementia and paralysis can set in if treatment is not sought. Medications such as penicillin can usually prevent tabes dorsalis from worsening, but any damage that has already been done to the nervous system prior to treatment cannot be repaired.

Thanks to better patient education and modern testing procedures, syphilis infections are usually caught and treated long before the onset of tabes dorsalis. Syphilis can remain latent or inactive in the body for several decades, however, and a person may not experience suspicious symptoms that prompt testing until nerve damage has already begun. In most cases, tabes dorsalis symptoms appear about 20 to 30 years after the initial syphilis infection.

Complications first arise when the infection enters the dorsal columns of the spinal cord in the upper back. The dorsal columns contain nerves that provide sensory feedback to the brain. Syphilis can cause nerve inflammation in the region that slows or completely prevents normal functioning. Without treatment, nerve problems extend from the dorsal region to the rest of the spinal cord and the brain.

Early symptoms of tabes dorsalis typically include weakness, fatigue, and slowed reflexes. A person might develop an uncoordinated gait with very heavy steps due to poor sensory perception. Shooting pains in the back and legs are common as nerve damage worsens. Bladder incontinence, sexual dysfunction, and impaired motor skills are possible as well. The disease can also affect vision and hearing and lead to mental problems, such as major personality changes. Dementia, blindness, and paralysis may arise within months or years of the onset of symptoms.

Blood work, imaging scans, and nerve tests are needed to confirm a tabes dorsalis diagnosis. Doctors check for the presence of syphilis and try to determine the extent of nervous system damage. Penicillin is usually administered right away in hopes of destroying the existing infection. Other drugs and hospital therapies might be needed to deal with pain, mental issues, and vision problems.

After receiving medical care, patients usually need to attend physical therapy sessions to improve coordination and muscle control. Permanent nerve damage means that some people are unable to overcome their difficulties with walking and performing other physical tasks. Support groups and psychological counseling can help recovering patients better understand their conditions and learn how to enjoy life despite their disabilities.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

WiseGEEK, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGEEK, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.