Stages of Syphilis You Should Be Aware Of

mouth sore

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  • Syphilis usually develops in stages, with symptoms varying at each period. In some cases, however, these stages may overlap, and some indicators do not happen in the same order
  • Most people with untreated syphilis don't develop tertiary syphilis. Tertiary syphilis happens 10 to 30 years after the infection began

Syphilis usually develops in stages, with symptoms varying at each period. In some cases, however, these stages may overlap, and some indicators do not happen in the same order. Furthermore, there is a possibility that infected patients may not notice symptoms for years.1

Primary Stage

The first stage of syphilis is characterized by the appearance of either a single sore or multiple sores that are often (but not always) firm, round and painless. These sores are called chancres, and they develop nearly three weeks after exposure to the syphilis bacteria. The location of the sore/s signifies where the infection entered the body.

Chancres can easily go unnoticed and are usually hidden within the vagina or rectum. Syphilis sore/s last for three to six weeks, and may heal whether the person received treatment or not.2,3 After the sore goes away, however, it's advised that you must still receive treatment to help prevent the infection from moving to the secondary stage of syphilis.

Secondary Stage

During the secondary stage of syphilis, you can develop skin rashes and/or mucous membrane lesions. The latter refers to sores found in the mouth, vagina or anus. This stage often begins with the rash appearing on more areas of the body, typically when the primary sore is healing or several weeks after the sore has healed.4

A syphilis rash appears as rough, red or reddish-brown spot/s on the palms of your hands and/or the bottoms of the feet. It doesn't itch, and can be so faint that the person won't notice it. The rash may be accompanied by wart-like sores in the mouth or genital area as well.5 Aside from these symptoms, other indicators that syphilis patients can develop include:6

Fever

Swollen lymph glands

Sore throat

Patchy hair loss

Headaches

Weight loss

Muscle aches

Fatigue

Symptoms during this stage can resolve whether or not the person receives treatment, typically disappearing within a few weeks, or repeatedly coming and going for nearly a year. If left unresolved, symptoms can cause the infection to move to the latent and even tertiary stages of syphilis.

Latent Stage

During the latent stage of syphilis, signs of this STD aren't visible. This situation can be detrimental, as failing to receive adequate treatment may mean that you that can continue to have syphilis in the body for years, without the appearance of symptoms.7

Tertiary Stage

Most people with untreated syphilis don't develop tertiary syphilis. However, nearly 15 to 30 percent of untreated syphilis patients can have this very serious condition. Tertiary syphilis happens 10 to 30 years after the infection began.

Unfortunately, if syphilis reaches this stage, the disease can affect various organ systems, such as the heart and blood vessels, and the brain and the nervous system. Tertiary syphilis can damage the eyes, liver, bones and joints, and may also lead to death.8,9

MORE ABOUT SYPHILIS

Syphilis: Introduction

What Is Syphilis?

Tuskegee Syphilis Study

Congenital Syphilis

Syphilis Stages

Syphilis Causes

Syphilis Transmission

Syphilis Symptoms

Syphilis Treatment

Syphilis Testing

Syphilis Prevention

Syphilis FAQ

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