Signs and symptoms
Hallmark symptoms of ciguatera in humans include gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and neurological effects. Gastrointestinal symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, usually followed by neurological symptoms such as headaches, muscle aches, paresthesia, numbness of extremities, mouth and lips, reversal of hot and cold sensation, ataxia, vertigo, and hallucinations. Severe cases of ciguatera can also result in cold allodynia, which is a burning sensation on contact with cold. Neurological symptoms can persist and ciguatera poisoning is occasionally misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis. Cardiovascular symptoms include bradycardia, tachycardia, hypotension, hypertension, orthostatic tachycardia, exercise intolerance, and rhythm disorders. Death from the condition can occur, but is extremely rare.
Dyspareunia and other ciguatera symptoms have developed in otherwise healthy males and females following sexual intercourse with partners suffering ciguatera poisoning, signifying that the toxin may be sexually transmitted. Diarrhea and facial rashes have been reported in breastfed infants of poisoned mothers, suggesting that ciguatera toxins migrate into breast milk.
The symptoms can last from weeks to years, and in extreme cases as long as 20 years, often leading to long-term disability. Most people do recover slowly over time.