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Seizure. 2008 Dec;17(8):711-6. doi: 10.1016/j.seizure.2008.05.003. Epub 2008 Jun 13.

Symptomatic seizures in neurosyphilis: an experience from a university hospital in south India.

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Department of Neurology, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore 560 029, Karnataka, India.



Neurosyphilis has protean clinical manifestations, including epilepsy. However, there is paucity of literature providing details regarding seizures. The aim of the study was to analyze the clinical profile and brain imaging features of 30 patients of neurosyphilis, and to evaluate the predictors and the outcome of seizures in this subgroup.


Among the 119 patients (M:F:: 84:35) of neurosyphilis, evaluated over 6 years, 30 patients (M:W::23:7, age: 37.5+/-10.1 years, duration of illness: 11.9+/-20.1 months) were reported to have seizures. CSF-VDRL was positive in all. In addition, HIV serology was positive in 2/20.


Seizure was the dominant symptom in all and lone manifestation in two patients. None had history of epilepsy. Their seizure profile was: generalized (17), partial (8), and status epilepticus (5). Concomitant manifestations were encephalopathy (7), meningitis (7), dementia (6), behavioral disturbances (4), stroke (2), and optic atrophy (1). CSF study revealed pleocytosis in 24 (34.6+/-51.5/cu mm) and raised protein in 20 (67+/-33.3mg%). CT scan was abnormal in 26 patients and revealed diffuse atrophy in all and focal hypodensities in 5 patients. MRI of brain (6) showed features of ischemia (2), meningeal enhancement (1) and white matter (1) and medial temporal (2) signal changes. Three patients had reversible periodic lateralized epileptiform discharges (PLEDs), without structural lesion. Nineteen patients received penicillin and/or ceftriaxone. At a mean follow up of 6.7+/-9.4 months, 13/17 had variable improvement. Nine patients required polytherapy and seizures remained uncontrolled in five patients.


Symptomatic seizures due to neurosyphilis are frequent, may have diverse underlying mechanism(s) and rarely can be the lone manifestation. In view of availability of specific therapy for syphilis, a high index of suspicion is recommended.

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