How much do you know about syphilis symptoms? These signs and stages of this contagious disease should be identified and treated before potentially life-threatening complications develop. This information can help you understand more about syphilis stages, symptoms, and treatment.
What Are the Symptoms of Syphilis?
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacteria Treponema pailldum and has been in existence for centuries. Typically, this infectious disease can be spread through oral, vaginal, or anal sexual activity. There is no evidence that syphilis can be contracted through casual contact or through using objects such as toilet seats, swimming pools, bathtubs, clothing, eating utensils, hot tubs, towels, or shared clothing.
A congenital form of syphilis can also be spread from a pregnant mother in utero to her unborn child or during childbirth to her baby. This form of syphilis can result in serious health complications, including stillbirth or death.
The Four Stages
There are four stages of syphilis, and not every stage has obvious symptoms.
It is possible for a person not to know he or she has an infection or that he or she may be exposing sexual partners to this disease. The four stages are as follows:
- Primary – During this stage, symptoms can appear 10 days to three months after exposure. One or more small, painless sores, or chancres, can appear on the genitals or mouth. These sores can heal without treatment in about three to six weeks and may not leave a scar.
- Secondary – This stage begins two to 10 weeks after the appearance of the first sore. People at this stage may have signs of a rosy skin rash on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet, sores in the mouth, vagina, or anus, and other symptoms that include headaches, fatigue, fever, hair loss, weight loss, swollen lymph nodes, and aching muscles. The symptoms can go away and reappear for up to a year during the secondary stage. They can also resolve without treatment.
- Latent – Also called the hidden stage, the latent stage can last for many years. People may not show any signs or symptoms of the disease while it lies dormant in the body. Not every person will experience the latent stage.
- Tertiary – This last and most severe of the syphilis stages may begin up to thirty years after the first exposure. People can experience permanent damage to organs and body systems, such as stroke, neurological problems, paralysis, blindness, deafness, dementia, heart valve disease, and other life-threatening conditions. If untreated, tertiary syphilis can also result in death.
Congenital syphilis may not have any symptoms, or it may cause some of the following signs in babies:
- Rash on palms of hands or soles of feet
- Nasal discharge
- Bone abnormalities
- Problems with brain function and neurological development
- Jaundice and enlarged liver
- Swollen glands
Not every person will develop obvious syphilis symptoms, which is why it is so important to seek medical treatment and get regular testing for this and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Diagnosis and Treatment
You can have syphilis and not know it, but if you suspect an infection, you should see a medical professional who can perform a visual exam for the presence of chancres. You may be given a blood test as well to detect syphilis.
Syphilis treatment typically involves a single injected dose of antibiotics. The disease can be cured if detected early. Most people respond well to penicillin, but if you are allergic to that medication, a different antibiotic may be used. Treatment is most effective during the first two stages of the disease. By the latent and tertiary stages of syphilis, you may require multiple doses to stop the infection. You may also have permanent damage if your treatment is delayed past the primary and secondary stages. Without treatment, the disease can progress to significant complications and/or death.
As with most sexually transmitted diseases, syphilis can be prevented with condom use every time you have sexual activity. If you or your sexual partner has an active infection, you should refrain from sexual contact until your infection responds to treatment and you are no longer contagious.