Syphilis Symptoms to Watch Out For

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  • Syphilis symptoms in men and in women are similar. Because symptoms are mild and hard to recognize, people can pass on the infection without knowing it, resulting in syphilis affecting both men and women
  • A syphilis chancre, which is a small and painless sore, is the main symptom. A chancre is usually found on the penis, vagina or around the anus, although this syphilis symptom can appear in the mouth, or on the lips, fingers or buttocks too

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emphasizes that signs of syphilis can take at least 21 days to appear after the initial infection, although this period can range anywhere from 10 to 90 days.1 What's tricky about this STD is the tendency for symptoms to become unnoticed because they can be mild. Some people can also confuse these indicators with other conditions like pimples or rashes.2

Syphilis symptoms in men and in women are similar. Because symptoms are mild and hard to recognize, people can pass on the infection without knowing it, resulting in syphilis affecting both men and women. Furthermore, while syphilis symptoms can come and go over time, the infection doesn’t go away unless it’s been treated. In some cases, even if symptoms improve, there’s still a risk of transmitting the infection or developing serious problems if you don’t get proper treatment.3,4

What Are the Early Symptoms of Syphilis?

A syphilis chancre, which is a small and painless sore, is the main symptom. A chancre is usually found on the penis, vagina or around the anus, although this syphilis symptom can appear in the mouth, or on the lips, fingers or buttocks too. Usually, only one sore appears, but some patients can have multiple syphilis sores.5 Other indicators that appear in the early stage of syphilis include swollen glands in the neck, groin or armpits. These can resolve within two to eight weeks.6

These Signs of Syphilis Appear in Later Stages

Other symptoms can develop a few weeks after initial symptoms have resolved, in a stage known as "secondary syphilis." Signs that a patient already has secondary syphilis include:7

A blotchy red syphilis rash that can show up anywhere on the body, but usually appears on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet

Small skin growths that look similar to genital warts, which can appear on the vulva (for women) and/or the anus (for both men and women)

White patches in the mouth

Flu-like symptoms such as tiredness, headaches, joint pain and high-temperature fever

Swollen glands

Patchy hair loss, although occasionally

These symptoms can pass within a few weeks, although they can come and go over several months before disappearing. Patients can still be infected even if symptoms aren’t clear. If this happens, patients already have a condition called latent syphilis, which can last for decades and result in complications. It’s also possible to transmit syphilis during this stage of the infection, but it only happens within two years of being infected.

Symptoms of Congenital Syphilis

Pregnant women with syphilis can pass on the infection to their baby either during their pregnancy or while in delivery, resulting in a disease called congenital syphilis (CS). While most babies don’t show symptoms of CS, there are instances when rashes already appear on the baby’s palms or soles. Babies with CS can also have:8,9

Saddle nose (in syphilis patients, this causes the nose bridge to collapse)

Contagious watery discharge from the nose

Teeth deformities

Painful inflammation of the bone coverings

Anemia (reduced levels of red blood cells)

Swelling of lymph nodes

Deafness

Enlarged liver and spleen

A risk of failing to thrive

If you notice these syphilis symptoms, get tested immediately for the disease to prevent severe health problems.

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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