12 Symptoms of Syphilis You Can’t Afford to Miss

The facts don’t lie: syphilis cases are on the rise in the United States. Picture syphilis as being one of the most harmful infections around. While easily treatable, this sexually transmitted infection (STI) can result in serious negative health effects when left untreated, including vision loss, organ damage, and even death.

Given these possible outcomes, it pays to know what the signs and symptoms of syphilis are…

1. Painless Sores


Syphilis comes in four stages. During the first stage, painless sores (chancres) will appear on the body shortly after infection occurs, just like this syphilis picture shows. Often firm and round, these sores appear where syphilis entered the body and last for a few weeks before disappearing, with or without treatment.

Left untreated, syphilis can advance further and cause the following…

2. Skin Rashes and Other Lesions


As far as syphilis rash pictures go, this one is fairly mild. The secondary stage of syphilis results in rashes or mucous membrane lesions. Unlike primary syphilis rashes, secondary rashes can appear on the hands or bottoms of the feet and the torso. Like the first rash, though, these sores are typically painless and not itchy.

Rashes are easy to see, but they aren’t the only signs of secondary-stage syphilis…

3. Fever


In the secondary stage of syphilis, a person might develop a fever. Often, it is mild and under 101°F (38°C). This fever might be easy enough to miss, which is why it’s necessary to look for other symptoms, like the following…

4. Swollen Lymph Nodes

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Another potential sign of secondary syphilis is swollen lymph nodes. These occur about 4 to 6 weeks after the first stage. Lymph nodes can swell throughout the body during this stage, not just near the initial infection site.

Other signs of general infection during this stage include the following…

5. Sore Throat


The secondary stage causes many signs of general infection, including a sore throat, which might be mistaken for the common cold.

The following sign is noticeable with the naked eye…

6. Patchy Hair Loss

Jianjun Qiao and Hong Fang/CMAJ

Up to 7 percent of people with secondary syphilis can experience hair loss, although experts are unsure how exactly the disease causes this symptom. Hair loss can either be diffuse (evenly thinning) or patchy (referred to as “moth-eaten alopecia”).

Not all symptoms are painless, like the following…

7. Headaches

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Some people might assume that symptoms of syphilis are restricted only to the site of infection. Unfortunately this is not the case, as headaches can occur.

Severe headaches can also be a sign of neurosyphilis, which can occur at any point after infection, not just the secondary phase. Neurosyphilis indicates that the infection has spread to the brain and spinal cord and requires immediate medical attention.

The following symptom is another very noticeable symptom…

8. Weight Loss

With all the havoc syphilis wrecks on the body, it’s no wonder appetite loss can occur. Unfortunately, the unpleasantness doesn’t stop there…

9. Muscle Aches

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Those who notice the previous symptoms along with muscle aches should have cause for concern, as muscle aches can occur during primary syphilis, along with the following symptom…

10. Fatigue


Fighting syphilis can be incredibly taxing on the body. Muscle aches, fever, appetite loss, headaches… it only makes sense that the body would feel worn out, which is where fatigue sets in. That being said, the next slide might feel surprising…

11. No Symptoms


After secondary syphilis, the latent stage occurs. As the name suggests, this phase is marked by no symptoms. Unfortunately, just because someone might exhibit zero symptoms, it doesn’t mean the damage is non-existant. In some cases, untreated syphilis patients can progress to the tertiary stage, which is marked by…

12. Internal Organ Damage


In some cases, untreated syphilis can progress to the tertiary stage, where serious damage can occur decades after the initial infection. In this stage, syphilis has spread throughout the body and caused damage to many organ systems, including the lungs, brain, and heart. In worst-case scenarios, the damage is so extreme that it is fatal.


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