St. Luke's Hospital
Located in Chesterfield, MO
Main Number: 314-434-1500
Emergency Dept: 314-205-6990 Patient Billing: 888-924-9200
Find a Physician Payment Options Locations & Directions
Follow us on: facebook twitter Mobile Email Page Email Page Print Page Print Page Increase Font Size Decrease Font Size Font Size
Meet the Doctor
Spirit of Women
Community Health Needs Assessment
Home > Health Information

Multimedia Encyclopedia


    General paresis

    General paresis is aproblem withmental function due todamage to the brain from untreated syphilis.


    General paresis is one form of neurosyphilis. Today it is very rare.

    The syphilis infection can appear in many different ways and damages many different nerves of the brain. This damage can cause:

    • Abnormal mental function including hallucinations and false ideas (delusions)
    • Brief, sharp, "lightning" pains that occur with tabes dorsalis
    • Decreased mental function
    • Eye changes and abnormal pupil response
    • Mood changes
    • Overactive reflexes
    • Personality changes
    • Speech changes

    General paresis usually begins about 15to 20 years after the syphilis infection. Risks include syphilis infection and infection with other sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea (which may hide symptoms of syphilis infection).

    Syphilis infections are passed through sexual contact with an infected person.It canalso bespreadthrough nonsexual contact.


    • Decreased language ability (aphasia)
    • Decreased motivation
    • Impaired judgment
    • Loss of ability to calculate
    • Loss of long-term memory (long-past events)
    • Loss of short-term memory (recent events)
    • Muscle weakness (difficulty using legs, arms, or other parts of the body)
    • Personality changes
      • Delusions, hallucinations
      • Irritability, anger
      • Inappropriate moods
      • Low mood
    • Seizures

    Exams and Tests

    Signs include:

    • Change in the response of the pupil in the eye
    • Irregular shape of the pupil
    • Inability to stand with the eyes closed (Romberg test)
    • Loss of sense of vibration and position
    • Muscle weakness
    • Problems with walking (gait)
    • Slowly worsening dementia, with loss of many brain functions

    The doctor may do the following tests:

    • Eye exam
    • Muscle exam
    • Nervous system (neurologic) exam

    Blood and urine tests to detect syphilis in the body include:

    • FTA-ABS
    • RPR
    • VDRL

    Tests of the nervous system may include:

    • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)
    • Head CT scan and MRI
    • Nerve conduction tests


    The goals of treatment are to cure the infection and slow the disorder from getting worse. The doctor will prescribe penicillin or other antibiotics to treat the infection. Treatmentwill likelycontinue until the infection has completely cleared.

    Treating the infection will reduce new nerve damage. But it will not cure damage that has already occurred. A follow-up examination of the cerebrospinal fluid is needed to see whether the antibiotic therapy worked.

    Treatment of symptoms is needed for existing nervous system damage. Seizures rarely occur, but emergency treatment may be needed if they do. Anticonvulsant medicines can help control seizures.

    Patients who are unable to care for themselves may need help with such activities as eating and dressing. Those with muscle weakness may need occupational therapy or physical therapy.

    Outlook (Prognosis)

    Without treatment, people can become disabled. People with late syphilis infections are more likely to get other infections and diseases.

    Possible Complications

    • Inability to care for yourself
    • Inability to communicate or interact with others
    • Injury due to seizures or falls

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call your health care provider if you know you have been exposed to syphilis or othersexually transmittedinfection in the past, and have not already been treated.

    Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of general paresis, especially if you know you have been infected with syphilis.

    Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have seizures.


    Treating primary syphilis and secondary syphilis infections will prevent general paresis.

    Practicing safer sex, such as limiting partners and using protection, may reduce the risk of getting infected with syphilis. Avoid direct skin contact with persons who have secondary syphilis.


    Beck BJ. Mental disorders due to a general medical condition. In: Stern TA, Rosenbaum JF, Fava M,et al.,eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2008:chap 21.

    Koshy A, Roos K. Infections of the nervous system. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds. Bradley’s Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 53C.


    • Central nervous system


      • Central nervous system


      Self Care

        Tests for General paresis

          Review Date: 2/27/2013

          Reviewed By: Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Department of Neurosurgery, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles and Department of Anatomy, University of California, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

          The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

          A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Fire Fox and chrome browser.

          Back  |  Top
          About Us
          Contact Us
          Locations & Directions
          Quality Reports
          Annual Reports
          Honors & Awards
          Community Health Needs

          Brain & Spine
          Sleep Medicine
          Urgent Care
          Women's Services
          All Services
          Patients & Visitors
          Locations & Directions
          Find a Physician
          Tour St. Luke's
          Patient & Visitor Information
          Contact Us
          Payment Options
          Financial Assistance
          Send a Card
          Mammogram Appointments
          Health Tools
          My Personal Health
          Spirit of Women
          Health Information & Tools
          Clinical Trials
          Employer Programs -
          Passport to Wellness

          Classes & Events
          Classes & Events
          Spirit of Women
          Donate & Volunteer
          Giving Opportunities
          Physicians & Employees
          For Physicians
          Remote Access
          Medical Residency Information
          Pharmacy Residency Information
          Physician CPOE Training
          St. Luke's Hospital - 232 South Woods Mill Road - Chesterfield, MO 63017 Main Number: 314-434-1500 Emergency Dept: 314-205-6990 Patient Billing: 888-924-9200
          Copyright © St. Luke's Hospital Website Terms and Conditions  |  Privacy Policy  |  Notice of Privacy Practices PDF  |  Patient Rights PDF Sitemap St. Luke's Mobile