What are the Complications of Syphilis?
Since syphilis symptoms often go unnoticed, the disease can progress and cause permanent damage and complications to the body. A test for syphilis should be performed as soon as possible if signs are present. Even when syphilis symptoms are not present, it is important to get a syphilis test at least annually to ensure early treatment and prevent long term damage. The complications of syphilis can be serious and irreversible if not promptly treated. Fortunately, harmful effects of syphilis are avoidable.
The first sign of syphilis is a single sore or chancre. Syphilis symptoms in women include a chancre on the labia, vaginal area, mouth or anus. Syphilis symptoms in men include a chancre on the penis, scrotum, mouth, or anus. This will develop anywhere from one week to three months (average 21 days) after transmission. It will eventually heal on its own, but syphilis will still be present in the body. If syphilis is not detected in primary stage, it will progress to the secondary stage.
The second stage of syphilis is characterized by a rough, reddish-brown rash on the hands and soles of the feet. Some people experience muscle aches, fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes. These symptoms may permanently clear up within a few weeks or repeatedly come back for about a year.
If syphilis goes untreated after the first and second stage, it can progress to the latent or hidden stage where no symptoms are present. This stage can last for years and may eventually advance to the tertiary stage. The tertiary stage is characterized by serious complications. It is important to seek syphilis treatment before is progresses to the tertiary stage.
- Cardiovascular problems: Syphilis can cause aneurysm and inflammation of the aorta and other blood and heart valves.
- Neurological problems: Untreated syphilis can lead to neurological problems such as stroke, meningitis, deafness, and blindness.
- Increased HIV risk: People with syphilis or other STDs with genital ulcers have an estimated two to five percent increased risk of contracting HIV. Syphilis sores can bleed easily creating an opening for HIV to enter the body during sexual activity.
- Small bumps or tumors: Known as gummas, these bumps occur during late stage syphilis and can develop on the bones, skin, liver, or other organs. Gummas will disappear with treatment.
- Complications during pregnancy and childbirth: A pregnant mother can transfer syphilis to her unborn child. Congenital syphilis can cause stillbirth, miscarriage, or the death of the infant shortly after birth. Syphilis testing is recommended for all pregnant women.