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Several infections have been suggested to increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease including some chronic spirochete infections such as syphilis. Dr Manoj Malu, Director of Clarewell Clinics spoke exclusively with Express.co.uk to discuss more about syphilis and how it may be related to increased dementia risk.
“Syphilis is a great imitator,” began Dr Malu.
“It can produce practically any symptoms you can conceive of.
“Many patients may have this infection in a latent form causing no obvious symptoms whilst doing the damage internally and then symptoms manifest at a later date.”
Syphilis can cause lesions localised to the area where the infection entered the body at the time of sexual contact, for example on the lips or inside the mouth after oral sex, on genitals or in and around the back passage.
“Because they tend to be painless, they do not draw much attention and tend to disappear within a few weeks,” added Malu.
“As a result, one can notice some swelling of lymph nodes in the neck or in the groin area.
“This is called primary syphilis as this is the stage immediately after one gets infected.
“Ideally, one should get diagnosed and treated at this stage before the infection spreads to the rest of body.”
Regarding symptoms and how the condition progresses, Dr Malu explained: “Within two to six months after getting exposed to syphilis (however, this can happen up to two years), syphilis spreads through the bloodstream and appears as a flu that is hard to shake off.
This is the “secondary” stage of syphilis.
“Weeks and months of fever, night sweats, poor appetite, weight loss, sore throat and skin rashes of many appearances.
“Unusual but serious symptoms can affect eyes (redness, floaters and reduced vision), ears (hearing impairment), brain (headaches, brain fog, double vision suggesting meningitis as well as mini-stroke and stroke), nerves (neuropathy) and heart (palpitations and leaky aortic heart valve).”
When asked how syphilis may be linked to increased risk of dementia, Dr Malu said: “The long-term effects of syphilis are due to chronic damage to large blood vessels like aorta, heart, nerves, spinal cord, brain, bones and joints.
“Fortunately, they have become rare in recent times due to fewer cases of syphilis and availability of effective antibiotics to cure it.
“However, with the surge in cases of syphilis in the last 10 years, I am afraid we will begin to again see such complications in the coming decade.
“Dementia and chronic heart issues are serious late complications of syphilis.
“Forgetfulness and unexplained nerve pains also should prompt doctors to order blood tests to rule out syphilis.”
Early signs of dementia include:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks, such as getting confused over the correct change when shopping
- Struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word
- Being confused about time and place
- Mood changes.
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