A lot of people who have become infected with syphilis can go symptom free for years and years, but this does not eliminate the risk of them experiencing complications later on in life if the condition goes untreated. There are three different stages of syphilis: primary, secondary, and tertiary. The disease is passed by people that are in the primary or secondary stage of the disease (where sores are present). However, a person may be unaware of that they are infected and pass the condition along to their partner(s) through sexual intercourse.
Primary stage syphilis is where the infected individual develops single or multiple sores called chancres. From the time of infection symptoms tend to appear within ten to ninety days. These sores are characterized as being small, round, painless, and firm. In general chancres appear at the site where the infection entered the body. The sore remains for three to six weeks and heals on its own. But, if one does not receive treatment the infection will move onto the next stage.
Secondary stage syphilis is marked by skin rashes and lesions of the mucous membranes. Typically, it will start out with the development of a rash in one or more areas of the body. Generally, the rash does not cause irritation or itchiness. These rashes can manifest themselves while primary stage sores are still present or weeks after they have diminished. The rashes that afflict those with secondary syphilis generally are red, rough, or red-brown spots that appear on the palms of your hands or on the bottoms of your feet. Rashes that show up on different parts of the body will have different characteristics and may look similar to rashes caused by other conditions. In many cases the rashes may be very minor and go unnoticed.
Other symptoms that may arise from secondary stage syphilis are: fever, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, unexplained weight loss, achy muscles, chronic fatigue, sore throats, or hair loss (usually patches at a time). The body will resolve the complications of secondary stage syphilis, but if the infection is not treated it will progress to the tertiary stage of the disease.
The tertiary stage, also known as the late or latent stage, of syphilis occurs once the primary and secondary symptoms have cleared up. At this stage a person will continue to carry the infection while there will be no signs or symptoms. Late stage syphilis occurs in approximately fifteen percent of individuals that have not received treatment and can manifest ten to twenty years after being initially infected. The effects of this stage of the disease are damage to organs such as the eyes, brain, nervous system, liver, bones, and joints. This damage will cause symptoms such as poor coordination and impaired movement, paralysis, loss of sight, loss of feeling, and dementia. The damage caused to the body can be severe enough to result in death.