Does syphilis always have symptoms

Syphilis is an STI that spreads through sexual contact but can be effectively treated with medication. If left untreated, syphilis can lead to severe health complications, potentially causing permanent damage to vital organs such as the heart, brain, muscles, bones, and eyes. To lower your chances of contracting syphilis, it’s important to consistently use condoms during sexual activity.

In this article we will look at does syphilis always has symptoms or not. We will cover the topic in detail.

What is Syphilis?

Syphilis is an STI that can lead to significant health issues if left untreated. It progresses through various stages—primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary—each with distinct signs and symptoms. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum.

What are the stages of syphilis?

Syphilis can advance through four distinct stages, each with its own set of symptoms. People are highly contagious during the initial two stages and can easily transmit the infection to their sexual partners. Here’s a breakdown of each stage:

1. Primary Syphilis:

This first stage typically occurs within two to 12 weeks after exposure to the infection. It’s characterised by the development of a painless, firm sore known as a chancre on the genitals or mouth. Though the sore may be small and inconspicuous, it heals on its own within a few weeks or months. However, the infection persists if left untreated, progressing to the next stage. Transmission of syphilis is possible during this stage through vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

2. Secondary Syphilis:

Roughly one to six months after the disappearance of the initial sore, a rough, bumpy rash associated with syphilis emerges. This rash can spread across the entire body, including the palms and soles of the feet, without causing itching. Additional symptoms may include fever, fatigue, wart-like sores, muscle aches, weight loss, headaches, hair loss, and swollen lymph nodes. These symptoms may come and go over months or years, and the absence of the rash or other symptoms doesn’t signify the absence of the infection. Transmission of syphilis is possible during this stage through vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

3. Latent Syphilis:

If left untreated through the initial stages, syphilis enters a latent stage where no outward signs or symptoms are present. Some individuals may experience occasional mild flare-ups. Despite the lack of visible symptoms, the infection can cause damage to the heart, bones, nerves, and organs. The latent stage can persist for up to 20 years, and transmission of syphilis is rare during this phase. Without treatment, the infection progresses to the late stage.

4. Late (Tertiary) Syphilis:

While many cases of syphilis may remain in the latent phase without progressing further, approximately 20% of individuals develop late syphilis, leading to severe health complications. These complications manifest slowly and include brain damage, dementia, cognitive impairment, heart disease, movement disorders, muscle problems, nerve damage, seizures, and vision problems, including blindness.

Does syphilis always have symptoms?

Yes, syphilis has many symptoms which when not treated early and/or with care, can lead to vision problems, Vagina and penis sores, etc.

What is congenital syphilis?

Congenital syphilis occurs when a pregnant individual passes the infection to their fetus during pregnancy. This transmission can lead to serious health complications, including death, in babies and young children.

Pregnant individuals must be screened for STIs, including syphilis, during their initial prenatal visits. If syphilis is detected, prompt treatment is essential to safeguard the health of both the pregnant person and their unborn child.

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How common is syphilis?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 134,000 cases of syphilis were reported in 2020. The infection is more prevalent among men and individuals assigned male at birth (AMAB). Specifically, men who have sex with men (MSM) are diagnosed with syphilis more frequently than any other demographic group.

Symptoms and Causes

Symptoms and Causes of Syphilis

Symptoms of Syphilis:

Syphilis symptoms vary depending on the stage of infection. You’re most contagious in the early stages when symptoms are more likely to appear. Here’s what to expect:

First Stage:

One or more painless sores develop on the genitals. They may be small and mistaken for a pimple or other skin lesion. These sores disappear on their own within about six weeks.

Second Stage:

A rough, red or brown rash may develop, along with flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, fever, sore throat, and muscle aches. Skin rashes and sores may also appear in the mouth, vagina, or anus.

Latent Stage:

After the second stage, symptoms are hidden. However, the infection remains present. Treatment with medication is necessary to cure the infection and prevent progression.

What does Syphilis look like?

In the first stage, a small, smooth sore resembling a pimple may appear on the genitals, mouth, or lips. It’s often painless and may go unnoticed. In the second stage, a rough rash develops, starting in one area and spreading to cover the entire body, including the palms and soles. Sores may also appear in the mouth, vagina, or anus.

Transmission and Contagiousness:

Syphilis is contagious, especially in the primary and secondary stages when sores or a rash are present. It spreads primarily through sexual contact, even without penetration or ejaculation. The infection can also be transmitted through direct contact with a syphilis sore. If left untreated, syphilis remains contagious regardless of symptoms.

Can Syphilis cause problems During Pregnancy:

Untreated syphilis during pregnancy can lead to serious complications for both the mother and the baby. Up to 40% of babies born to untreated mothers may die from the infection. Complications include miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight, issues with the umbilical cord, stillbirth, and death within the first 28 days of life.

What are the Health Complications of Syphilis:

Without treatment, syphilis can progress to life-threatening complications affecting various organs, including the heart, brain, spinal cord, and others. These complications may include blindness, paralysis, and damage to vital organs.

How is syphilis Diagnosis:

Syphilis is diagnosed through a combination of sexual history assessment and laboratory tests. A blood sample is usually taken to detect signs of infection. Examination of fluid or tissue from a syphilis sore may also be necessary for diagnosis.

How is Syphilis Treated:

Syphilis is treated with antibiotics, primarily penicillin. The duration and dosage of treatment depend on the stage of syphilis and individual symptoms. It’s essential to complete the full course of antibiotics, even if symptoms disappear. Partners should also be notified and tested. Regular testing and safe sex practices are recommended, as reinfection is possible.

Is Syphilis 100% Curable?

Syphilis is 100% curable with antibiotics. However, damage to organs caused by untreated syphilis cannot be reversed. Regular testing and safe sex practices are crucial to preventing reinfection.


How can I reduce my risk of getting syphilis?

The only surefire way to prevent syphilis and other STDs is to abstain from anal, oral, and vaginal sex altogether.

If you are sexually active, you can reduce your risk of contracting syphilis by:

  1. Being in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested for syphilis and is free from the infection.
  2. Consistently use latex condoms correctly every time you engage in sexual activity. Condoms serve as a barrier that can help prevent the transmission of syphilis by blocking contact with sores. However, it’s important to note that syphilis sores may sometimes occur in areas not covered by a condom. In such cases, contact with these sores can still lead to the transmission of syphilis.

How do people get syphilis?

Syphilis is transmitted from one person to another through direct contact with a syphilitic sore, also known as a chancre. These sores can appear on or around the penis, vagina, anus, and rectum, as well as on the lips or inside the mouth. Syphilis can be spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sexual contact. Additionally, pregnant individuals with syphilis can pass the infection to their unborn child.

How quickly do symptoms appear after infection?

The average time from contracting syphilis to the onset of the first symptom is 21 days. However, this timeframe can vary widely, ranging from 10 to 90 days.

How does syphilis affect a pregnant person and their baby?

When a pregnant individual has syphilis, there’s a risk of transmitting the infection to their unborn baby. Therefore, all pregnant individuals must undergo syphilis testing at their initial prenatal visit. Some may need additional testing during the third trimester (at 28 weeks gestation) and upon delivery, particularly those residing in regions with high syphilis rates or facing risk factors during pregnancy.

Risk factors for acquiring syphilis during pregnancy include:

Engaging in sex with multiple partners. Sex coupled with drug use or involvement in transactional sex. Delayed initiation of prenatal care (such as starting during the second trimester or later) or lack of prenatal care. Use of methamphetamine or heroin. Incarceration of the pregnant individual or their partner. Instability in housing or experiencing homelessness.

Healthcare providers should also assess the risk of reinfection by discussing ongoing risky behaviours and ensuring treatment for sex partners. Testing for syphilis is recommended for any individual who experiences a stillbirth after 20 weeks of gestation.

Depending on the duration of syphilis infection in a pregnant person, there’s a heightened risk of stillbirth or neonatal death. Untreated syphilis during pregnancy can result in infant mortality in up to 40% of cases.

Although a newborn may not initially display symptoms of syphilis, prompt treatment is essential to prevent serious complications that may arise within a few weeks. Without timely intervention, infants may experience developmental delays, seizures, or even death. Newborns born to syphilis-positive mothers should undergo congenital syphilis screening and a comprehensive examination.

Penicillin therapy is the preferred treatment for syphilis in pregnant individuals to prevent transmission to the baby. Penicillin treatment boasts an exceptionally high success rate of 98% in preventing transmission. Pregnant individuals with penicillin allergies should seek specialized care for desensitization to penicillin.

In Summary,

Syphilis is a serious sexually transmitted infection that can lead to severe health complications if left untreated. It is essential to understand the different stages of syphilis and its symptoms to seek timely treatment and prevent further damage to the body.

Regular testing and safe sex practices, such as using condoms consistently during sexual activity, can lower the risk of contracting syphilis. Pregnant individuals must undergo syphilis testing during prenatal visits to prevent congenital syphilis transmission to their unborn child. With timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment, syphilis is 100% curable, and individuals can lead a healthy life.