Symptoms of Syphilis

By  , Expert Content
Sep 21, 2011

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Syphilis can be difficult to diagnose as the symptoms are often non-specific and mild. The symptoms are similar in men and women and can often be difficult to recognise. Many people have mild symptoms of syphilis and hence, they can transmit the infection without knowing that they have it.


The symptoms evolve in stages:

  • Primary syphilis.
  • Secondary syphilis.
  • Latent phase.
  • Tertiary syphilis.


Primary Syphilis


Initial symptoms start between 10 days to 3 months after exposure to infection.


  • A small, painless sore or ulcer called chancre is the most common symptom of primary syphilis.
  • The sore appears at the site of infection such as the penis, vagina, anus, rectum, tongue or lips.
  • Most people get just one sore but some may have more.
  • As the sore is painless, many people tend to ignore it and do not realise that they are infected but they can transmit the infection during sexual contact.
  • The sore disappears in about two to six weeks and, if syphilis is not treated, the diseases progresses to its second stage.
  • Lymph nodes near the site of infection or sore may become swollen and enlarged. Lymph nodes are small organs present in the body in places such as in the neck, groin or armpit.


Secondary Syphilis: Symptoms of secondary syphilis start a few weeks after the sore goes away. The common symptoms in the second stage include:


  • Non-itchy rash may appear anywhere on the body. Although palms and soles are the commonest sites.
  • Fatigue and tiredness.
  • Headaches.
  • Enlarged or swollen lymph glands.


Some other less common symptoms include:


  • Fever.
  • Weight loss.
  • Patchy hair loss.
  • Joint pains.


These symptoms usually subside after a few weeks, or but may recur over a period of months.


Latent Phase


In the latent (hidden) phase of syphilis, the person is infected but has no symptoms. You can transmit the infection to another person during the first year of this stage of the condition either by sexual or close physical contact. However, after a few years even though you are infected you don’t transmit the infection to others. The latent stage of syphilis can last for years or even decades after the initial infection. If you are not treated properly during this stage, latent syphilis can progress to the most dangerous stage of syphilis; tertiary syphilis.


Tertiary Syphilis


This stage of syphilis starts years or even decades after initial infection. This stage of syphilis can be fatal. Symptoms during this stage depend on the part of the body which gets affected by the infection. Tertiary syphilis can affect the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, bones, skin and blood vessels. The potential symptoms of tertiary syphilis include:

  • Stroke.
  • Dementia.
  • Loss of coordination.
  • Numbness.
  • Paralysis.
  • Blindness.
  • Deafness.
  • Heart disease.
  • Skin rashes.




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