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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

Initial signs of syphilis usually appear at least 21 days after the initial infection, although you may notice them anywhere between 10 and 90 days.1 What's tricky about this STD is that the symptoms often go unnoticed. It’s common for people to confuse syphilis symptoms with pimples or rashes.2

Syphilis symptoms in men and in women are similar in the sense that they’re mild and hard to recognize. The U.K.’s NHS notes that because syphilis symptoms can be so indistinguishable, people can transmit the infection without knowing it, resulting in syphilis affecting both men and women.

Although symptoms can come and go over time, this doesn’t mean that the infection has permanently healed. In some cases, even if the condition has improved, there’s still a possibility of transmitting the infection.3,4

What Are the Early Symptoms of Syphilis?

A chancre, which is a small and painless sore, is the main symptom of this infection. It’s usually found on the penis, vagina or anus,5 although these syphilis sores can appear in the mouth, or on the lips, fingers or buttocks.6 A chancre can appear as a singular sore, but you may see multiple sores too.7 Other indicators that appear in the early stage of syphilis include swollen glands in the neck, groin or armpits, which are known to heal within two to eight weeks.8

These Signs of Syphilis Appear in Later Stages

Other symptoms can develop a few weeks after initial signs have resolved, in a stage known as "secondary syphilis." You already may be in this second stage of the infection if you have:9

  • A syphilis rash that develops anywhere on the body, but usually appears on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet
  • Small skin growths that look like genital warts, which can appear on the vulva or the anus
  • White patches in the mouth
  • Flu-like symptoms such as tiredness, headaches, joint pain and high-temperature fever
  • Swollen glands
  • Patchy hair loss

Such symptoms, particularly the syphilis rash, may resolve on their own within a few weeks or months, although they can come and go over several months before disappearing.10 However, take note that the lack of symptoms doesn’t necessarily indicate that you’re completely healed from the infection.11

You may actually still be infected even if symptoms aren’t discernible, meaning you possibly may already have entered the stage of this condition called latent syphilis, which can last for decades and result in complications.12,13

Symptoms of Congenital Syphilis

Pregnant women with syphilis can pass the infection to their baby either during pregnancy or delivery, resulting in congenital syphilis (CS).14 While most babies don’t show symptoms of CS, there are instances when rashes can appear on the baby’s palms or soles. Other CS signs include:15,16

  • Saddle nose (this causes the nose bridge to collapse)
  • Contagious watery discharge from the nose
  • Teeth deformities
  • Anemia17
  • Swelling of lymph nodes (albeit rare)18
  • Deafness
  • Enlarged liver and spleen
  • A risk of failing to thrive

If you notice these symptoms in your baby, have them tested immediately for the disease so you can reduce their risk for severe health problems.


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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