Medical Q&As

Syphilis - symptoms?

What are the symptoms of syphilis?

The symptoms of syphilis depend on which phase of the infection is being experienced by the sufferer. In the first or primary stage of the disease the person develops a chancre or painless sore on the genitals, anus or mouth. The chancre develops ten to twelve days after sexual contact and persists for up to six weeks. The lymph glands near the chancre tend to swell as part of the body’s immune response to the presence of infection. The infection can be successfully eradicated at this stage but if left untreated can progress on to the secondary phase of the disease. This can occur up to six months after the primary phase and is characterised by the emergence of a spotty rash that usually appears on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet but it may also appear elsewhere on the body. The rash may be accompanied by headache, fever, fatigue, muscle aches and loss of appetite. These symptoms may then resolve but the bacteria remain in the body and the disease becomes hidden. The final or third stage of syphilis can develop anytime from one year to several decades after the initial sexual encounter that caused the infection. This late stage can affect many parts of the body including the joints, heart, brain, nerves, eyes, blood vessels, liver and skeleton. Depending on their nature these late complications can be fatal. Despite popular perception syphilis is not a throwback to the Victorian era. There has been a worrying rise in its incidence in recent years despite all the public campaigning about safe sex practices.