The signs of syphilis are more complicated to explain than just providing a simple list. In fact, a wide variety of symptoms often hide within several stages of this sexually transmitted infection (STI). Today, we’ll take a closer look at these stages to help you understand the possible signs of syphilis.
Syphilis: Hiding in Plain Sight
Syphilis is one of the most widespread STIs. Recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention actually indicate that it is more popular than ever before. Across the United States, the infection rate has shot up in recent years.
It’s also easy to understand why we’re seeing more and more cases of syphilis: we are all at risk. Literally anyone who engages in any form of sexual activity is at risk for infection. Syphilis is usually transmitted via vaginal, anal or oral sex and, like other STIs, doesn’t discriminate based on age, race or sexual orientation.
As we mentioned above, the signs of syphilis are more varied than you may expect. It is essentially hiding in plain sight. The signs of syphilis are subtle and easy to miss But if we look at the distinct stages of its lifecycle, you will know what to look out for. Here is more information about those stages:
Signs of Syphilis in the Primary Stage
The earliest phase of an infection may not show any visible symptoms at all. If there is a detectable sign of syphilis, it may be something as innocuous as a tiny, painless sore. This sore often appears within the first three weeks after initial transmission. Typically, it will appear at the location where syphilis first entered your body. It can be difficult to notice. You may even mistake this sore for acne or an ingrown hair.
Within three-to-six weeks, this sore will disappear. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. The infection is still inside your body. It is important that you test for STIs and, if you test positive, receive treatment. This is the only way to fully eliminate syphilis and avoid spreading it to your partners.
Signs of Syphilis in the Secondary Stage
In the secondary stage, you may notice several new visible signs of syphilis. This can include a bright red rash. In particularly nasty cases, this rash could cover your entire body. Other syphilis symptoms to watch out for during the secondary stage include:
- swollen lymph glands
- painful or scratchy throat
- sores may appear in your mouth, genitals or anus
- hair loss
- weight loss
These symptoms will usually vanish within a few weeks. Remember though, that you are still infected. This lull in symptoms is actually the syphilis infection powering up for the third stage, Latent Syphilis.
Signs of Syphilis in the Third Stage (“Latent Syphilis”)
Latent Syphilis may not seem like a “stage” at all. However, looks can be deceiving. For potentially several years, you may not notice any visible symptoms.
As you may have guessed, this is just the STI preparing to reach its final form.
Late-Stage Signs of Syphilis (“Tertiary Syphilis”)
The final stage of syphilis is often called “Tertiary Syphilis.” It can occur any time between 10 and 30 years following the initial onset of the infection.
The signs and symptoms of syphilis during this late stage may include:
- Loss of muscle control and coordination
- Death is a possible outcome due to widespread damage to the heart, liver, bones, and joints
Unchecked Syphilis Leads to Serious Trouble
As we’ve seen, untreated syphilis can eventually lead to some serious long-term health problems. These complications may include arthritis, blindness and brain damage. If left long enough, a syphilis infection may become fatal.
For pregnant women with syphilis, there are additional risks. It is possible for you to transmit the infection to your unborn child. A baby born with syphilis may suffer from a number of complications. These can range from a simple rash and teeth deformities to deafness or the collapse of the nasal bone.
Fight Back with Testing and Treatment
Regular STI screenings should be a cornerstone of everyone’s sexual health. At this point, it should be easy to see how tricky a syphilis infection can be. Recognizing syphilis symptoms can be difficult. They often resemble common ailments. These signs of syphilis could even be invisible for years at a time. Just to be safe, we should all get tested regularly. A lab-certified blood test, like the one included in myLAB Box’s home testing kits, is the only way to absolutely know your status.
Reviewed by Luis Ferdinand M. Papa, MD, MHA
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