Signs and symptoms   


Signs and Symptoms Of Syphilis

Syphilis has an interesting disease pattern because there are different stages to the disease and most all the symptoms go away in between each stage, even if left untreated. Unfortunately, though the symptoms disappear without treatment, the bacteria doesn’t and the disease slowly worsens over time.

The Stages:

Primary Syphilis. Primary Syphilis is the first stage and occurs just after a person is newly infected with the bacteria. Usually 2 to 3 weeks after exposure, a genital sore(s) will develop at the site of bacterial entry. The sore is known as a "chancre" and is a small, firm, round, painless ulcerated lesion (click picture). Most often there is only one sore, but sometimes there may be multiple. In guys, the sore usually arises on the penis, but sores have also been found in the rectum or mouth. Although visible, because the lesion is painless, some guys elect to ignore the chancre, hoping it will just go away (and it does).

In girls, the primary site of chancre formation is in the vagina or on the cervix. Because these locations are hidden from view and the sore is painless, young women are often unaware that they have a lesion or are infected.

With adequate treatment of Primary Syphilis, a person is considered cured and the infection will not progress to further stages.  However, even without treatment, the chancre(s) last only 3 to 6 weeks and then disappears on its own. It is important to know the disease is not cured without medical intervention, and usually progresses to Secondary Syphilis if left untreated.

Secondary Syphilis. Without antibiotic treatment, the bacterial infection will progress to the secondary stage of disease. Secondary Syphilis occurs 2 to 6 weeks after the primary chancre heals and is characterized by multiple symptoms, including fever, swollen glands, sore throat, hair loss, headaches, weight and/or appetite loss, muscle and/or joint aches, and fatigue. In addition, there is usually a bumpy red rash that does not itch. This rash is located primarily on the palms of the hands and bottoms of the feet, but may occur on other parts of the body as well. The symptoms of Secondary Syphilis go away, but again, without treatment, the disease in not cured.

Tertiary or Latent Syphilis. If Secondary Syphilis goes untreated, the disease will progress to Tertiary Syphilis. This can occur months to even years after the secondary stage. Tertiary Syphilis is the most serious, as it can cause damage to the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints.  Brain injury can lead to the inability to coordinate muscle movements, loss of sensation in the arms and legs, and dementia. Injury to the eyes can lead to blindness, and injury to the heart can lead to damage of one of the major heart valves and/or the aorta (the major blood vessel leaving the heart). Tertiary syphilis can lead to death.