Syphilis Symptoms

Syphilis Symptoms and Stages

Symptoms of syphilis vary with each stage. Initial symptoms during the primary stage typically develop 10 days to three months after exposure. Symptoms commonly include enlarged lymph nodes near the groin and a small painless chancre sore on the part of the body where the bacterium was transmitted. Chancre sores are most common on the tongue, lips, genitals, or rectum. Some patients may develop several sores. If patients do not receive treatment, the symptoms will go away on their own within three to six weeks. However, this does not mean that the infection is gone. In fact, it means that the infection is progressing to the secondary stage.

Secondary Syphilis Stage

Symptoms of secondary syphilis develop two to 10 weeks after the first chancre sore appears. Symptoms may include:

  • Skin rash (small reddish-brown sores)
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • General discomfort
  • Soreness
  • Aches and pains

If the patient does not receive treatment during this stage, symptoms may go away within a few weeks or repeatedly go away and come back for as long as one year. Even if symptoms are not present, the infection will continue to worsen without treatment.

Latent Syphilis Stage

Some patients experience a period called latent syphilis before tertiary symptoms develop. During the clinical latency stage, no symptoms are present. This stage may last one to two years.

Tertiary Syphilis Stage

The tertiary stage may develop immediately after the secondary stage or one to two years after the latent stage. This is the final and most severe stage of the infection. During the tertiary stage, syphilis may cause permanent organ damage and death. It often causes brain (neurological) problems with may include:

  • Stoke
  • Spinal cord damage
  • Numbness
  • Poor muscle coordination
  • Deafness
  • Vision problems or blindness
  • Changes in personality
  • Dementia

Syphilis may also affect the heart, causing bulging (aneurysm) and inflammation of blood vessels, including the aorta, which is the body’s main artery. It may also cause valvular heart disease, such as aortic valve stenosis (when the valve becomes narrowed). All of these symptoms are potentially life threatening.

Babies born with syphilis may develop symptoms that are apparent at birth or several weeks after birth. Syphilis progresses much quicker and is more likely to cause complications in infants than adults. If the baby does not receive prompt treatment, serious and life-threatening complications may develop. Symptoms may include bone abnormalities, depressed nose bridge (saddle nose), vision and hearing problems (that may lead to deafness or blindness), swollen joints, screwdriver-shaped teeth (Hutchinson’s teeth), and scarring where chancre sores developed.


In general, patients with syphilis have an increased risk of developing the human immunodeficiency virus(HIV). This is because a syphilis chancre sore provides an easy way for HIV to enter the body.