Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis

(SSPE; Dawson Disease)


Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) is a condition that affects the brain and spine. It is a gradual break down of nerve cells from constant swelling.When left untreated, SSPE almost always leads to death.
Central Nervous System
si1210 97870 1 central nervous
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SSPE is caused either by an altered form of the measles virus or an abnormal immune response to measles. It occurs anywhere from 2-10 years after contracting measles.

Risk Factors

SSPE is more common in male, and in those aged 5-15 years old. Other factors that may increase your chance of SSPE include:
  • Measles infection in infancy
  • Not being vaccinated against measles
  • Ethnicity:
    • Arabs and Sephardic Jews have an incidence that is 6 times higher than Ashkenazi Jews.
    • Caucasians have a 4-fold higher incidence than African Americans in the United States.


Symptoms of SSPE may include:
  • Abnormal behavior
  • Irritability
  • Loss of intellectual abilities
  • Memory loss
  • Involuntary movements
  • Seizures
  • Inability to walk
  • Speech impairment with poor understanding
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Blindness
  • Muteness
  • Loss of consciousness


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.Tests may include blood tests and an electrocardiogram (EKG).Imaging tests to evaluate bodily structures may include:

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