What are the symptoms of syphilis?
The first stage of syphilis is called primary syphilis and usually occurs 10 days to 3 months after exposure. In men, the first sign of syphilis may be a sore on the penis. In women, the first sign may be a sore around or inside the vagina. You might not even notice the sore, because syphilis sores do not usually hurt. The sores go away after 3 to 6 weeks. You may also have enlarged lymph nodes (glands) in your groin.
If you don't treat syphilis early, it spreads from the sore into your blood. When syphilis gets into your blood, it can move into the secondary stage and cause many problems. The most common sign is a rash. The rash is usually reddish-brown and can occur anywhere on the body (even on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet). The rash appears 2 to 10 weeks after the appearance of the sores. Other signs of secondary syphilis include fever, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, body aches, sores in the mouth and fatigue.
After recovering from the secondary stage of syphilis, the disease can move into the latent stage. This stage produces no symptoms, but the infection is still present in the body.
After many years, people who have syphilis and don't get treatment may develop the fourth stage of syphilis, called tertiary syphilis. This stage can cause problems in the brain and spinal cord. Tertiary syphilis may damage the heart and other organs, also.
Some people who have syphilis don't have any signs of infection. In other people, the signs may be very mild. They might not even know they have it. But even if they have no signs or the signs go away on their own, the infection is still alive and can cause serious health problems many years later.
Resolving the Common Clinical Dilemmas of Syphilis by NR Birnbaum, M.D., RH Goldschmidt, M.D., and WO Buffett, M.D. (American Family Physician April 15, 1999, http://www.aafp.org/afp/990415ap/2233.html)
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff