What are the symptoms of syphilis?

Syphilis is an infection that can stay in the body for years if not recognized and treated promptly. There are three stages of syphilis, and each stage has distinct symptoms.

Symptoms of primary syphilis

Primary syphilis is the first stage of syphilis. Symptoms include:

  • A painless lesion called a chancre develops any time from 10 days to three months after exposure.

  • The chancre generally appears on the genital area but can also form on the lips, tongue or rectum if these areas have been exposed to a syphilis chancre on another person during oral or anal sexual contact. A chancre in the vagina, mouth or rectum is generally not easily seen.

  • The chancre heals in one to five weeks.

Symptoms of secondary syphilis

If left untreated, primary syphilis progresses to a second stage called secondary syphilis. In this stage, the bacteria that cause syphilis spread throughout the body and cause additional symptoms. Symptoms begin to appear about six weeks after the chancre has resolved and include:

  • Fatigue

  • Fever

  • Flu-like symptoms

  • Headache

  • Patchy hair loss

  • Skin rashes (predominantly palms of hands and soles of feet) and a rash around the anus. These rashes do not itch, and exposure to these rashes can transmit syphilis to others.

  • Sore throat

  • Swollen glands

  • Weight loss

Symptoms of tertiary syphilis

The third and final stage of syphilis is called tertiary or late-stage syphilis, which develops from untreated secondary syphilis. When untreated secondary syphilis symptoms disappear, the infection still continues in the body.

Symptoms of tertiary syphilis may not appear for 10 to 20 years after initial infection with syphilis. During this time, syphilis can damage organs, such as the brain, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and nerves, leading to serious complications.

Symptoms of tertiary syphilis include:

  • Delirium
  • Dementia
  • Gradual loss of vision
  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • Paralysis
  • Psychosis


What is syphilis?

Syphilis is a type of sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by an infection of the bacterium Treponema pallidum. Syphilis can also be spread to a fetus by an infected mother during pregnancy. A simple blood test can check for this bacterial infection.

Syphilis can be prevented and is easily treated in its early stages. Despite this, its transmission both through sexual co... Read more about syphilisintroduction


What causes syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by a bacterial infection of the bacterium Treponema pallidum. Syphilis can be passed from one person to another during sexual contact that involves vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Syphilis infection can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy.

Any person of any age who engages in sexual activity can c... Read more about syphiliscauses


How is syphilis treated?

Treatment of syphilis begins with seeking regular medical care throughout your life. Regular medical care allows your health care professional to best assess your risks of catching syphilis and promptly order further diagnostic testing as needed. These measures greatly increase the chances of diagnosing and treating syphilis in its earliest, most curable stage.

Prompt diagnosis an... Read more about syphilistreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: May 7, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.