Syphilis is divided into three stages, where symptoms in males and females change from stage to stage. Many people with syphilis do not notice symptoms.
First Stage (1-12 weeks after contact)
A reddish ulcer called a chancre (shang-ker) sore appears on the genitals, mouth or anus. It lasts one to five weeks and is painless. Not all people with syphilis develop a chancre; not all who develop a chancre notice it. Many women will not notice a chancre because it is inside the vagina.
Second Stage (1-6 months after contact)
Symptoms may include a rash on the chest, back, arms and legs; enlarged lymph nodes on neck, under arms, in groin, etc.; fever, sore throat and feeling sick all over. Symptoms go away, but sores and rash may appear again.
Third Stage (3 years or more after contact)
Symptoms include ulcers on the skin and internal organs; arthritis; loss of feeling in arms and legs; and pain and disability due to damage to the heart, blood vessels, spinal cord and/or brain (uncommon).
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis of syphilis includes a physical exam with blood samples or material from sores being examined in the laboratory. Treatment with an antibiotic -- usually penicillin -- cures syphilis. Follow-up is required to assure that treatment has been effective. Treatment cannot cure any permanent damage that has occurred.
If left untreated, syphilis may cause heart damage and damage to major blood vessels, resulting in heart failure and usually death. Another result is brain and spinal cord damage causing paralysis, insanity and eventually death. In addition, birth defects and death can occur to newborns whose mothers have syphilis.