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Is That a Syphilis Sore? Signs and Symptoms of Syphilis

Medically reviewed by Mike Kenneth Go Doratan, MD · General Surgery · The Medical City Ortigas

Written by Giann Floresca · Updated Dec 12, 2022

Is That a Syphilis Sore? Signs and Symptoms of Syphilis

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease with 4 stages — the primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary stages. Though they are named in a numbered order, the symptoms don’t always follow the same order, and there may be periods when they overlap. Among the earliest symptoms is the appearance of a syphilis sore, also known as a chancre.

These are the four stages of syphilis and their symptoms:

The Primary Stage

Appearance of a Syphilis Sore

The primary stage is the first stage. It is when the syphilis sore first appears. This sore will eventually ulcerate with an indurated border.

The sore appears where the bacteria entered your body. This usually occurs in the genitals but may also form at other ports of entry. The syphilis sore contains highly infectious bacteria called spirochete Treponema pallidum. The syphilis sore is usually firm, round, and painless.

The sore itself can last up to 3-6 weeks and will disappear whether or not treatment is administered. However, the bacteria will remain long after the sore disappears, so one must still receive treatment to prevent the disease from progressing.

The Secondary Stage

4-10 Weeks After Syphilis Sore

Approximately 25% of people with primary infection will develop the second stage. The secondary stage involves a wide variety of generalized symptoms, and may also include skin rashes, hair loss, gastrointestinal, muscular, renal, and neurological abnormalities.

While the secondary stage can manifest in many ways, the most common symptoms for it are reddish, non-itchy rashes and blemishes that start on your trunk and may completely envelop your body.

These rashes may also become pustular. They are usually accompanied by fluid-filled, wart-like sores in the genitals and buttock areas. These wart-like lesions and rashes are highly contagious and have a high chance of spreading the disease upon contact.

Rashes may also appear in the palms and soles. Whitish erosions may appear on the tongue and other mucosal surfaces as well.

Secondary symptoms may occur such as:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Malaise
  • Weight loss
  • Hair loss
  • Headaches

More serious albeit rarer symptoms include:

  • Kidney disease
  • Joint inflammation
  • Liver inflammation
  • Periostitis
  • Uveitis
  • Interstitial keratitis
  • The symptoms usually subside after 3-6 weeks, but the secondary symptoms may come back.

    The Latent Stage

    1 to 30 Years After First Syphilis Sore

    In this stage, there are no signs or symptoms whatsoever.

    Patients can remain in this stage for up to 15 years, giving the patient a false sense of security while the syphilis develops into the final, most crippling, and possibly even fatal stage. Although only 15-40 percent of people at the latent stage progress into the final stage, it is still of utmost importance that you are thoroughly checked for any more signs of syphilis before stopping treatment.

    The Tertiary Stage

    This is the final and most serious stage of syphilis. Only a small portion of patients ever get to this stage, and are no longer contagious. However, it may be fatal if not treated. The tertiary stage usually develops into one of these 3 forms:

    Gummatous Syphilis

    Occurring in 15 percent of tertiary stage patients, this form presents itself  15 or more years after the primary infection occurs. It is characterized by soft, inflamed, tumor-like balls that can affect bones, skin, and organs like the liver, but can show up anywhere.

    Cardiovascular Syphilis

    Occurs in 10 percent of tertiary patients. This form of syphilis can appear around 10-30 years after the primary infection. It usually results in syphilitic aortitis, inflammation, and a possible rupture of the heart’s aorta, the blood vessel which carries the oxygen-filled blood to the other parts of the body.

    Neuro and Ocular Syphilis

    An estimated 6.5 percent of tertiary patients are in this group. Even among the different forms of tertiary stage syphilis, this is a particularly dangerous and crippling kind. This targets the nervous system like the spinal cord, the nerves, and eyes. Severe headaches, poor muscle coordination, numbness, dementia, changes in vision, and even paralysis and blindness are among the symptoms that accompany this form of tertiary stage syphilis.

    Key Takeaways

    Although syphilis is a treatable disease, it is still a potentially dangerous sickness that may last for years. Make sure to practice safe sex to avoid this disease. Also, consult with your medical practitioner if you think you have a syphilis sore.

    Learn more about Syphilis here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Mike Kenneth Go Doratan, MD

    General Surgery · The Medical City Ortigas

    Written by Giann Floresca · Updated Dec 12, 2022

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