Syphilis is a bacterial infection that can be spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Syphilis is more common among gays or homosexuals, however, more women are currently being diagnosed with the disease.
Syphilis progresses in three stages. Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics in the first two stages. However, if left untreated within 12 months or a year, it can enter a latent phase where the bacteria is still in your body but with no symptoms.
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Syphilis can become active again after about 30 years, this is the third stage. In this stage, syphilis can damage your eyes, nerves, heart, brain, and other organs, leading to blindness, paralysis and even death, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
Therefore, it’s vital to diagnose and treat syphilis early because it can progress to stages that can affect your brain or your overall health.
7 Symptoms of Syphilis in Women
Here are seven syphilis symptoms in women you need to know about.
Sores that are round and painless
You may notice sores that are firm, round and painless in the first stage of syphilis. This stage normally lasts three to six weeks. Also, you may or may not notice multiple sores at the spot of infection.
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According to Dr. Shepherd, these sores are painless, firm and have appear to have a small fluid-filled sac. These sores usually appear as clusters, with several in one area, each slightly larger than a pimple. They resolve on their own without treatment, ushering the infection to the second stage.
Sores in vagina, anus, and mouth
This is another sign of secondary-stage syphilis. The sores are painless and may be grey or white, and raised. They appear in moist areas like your groin, mouth, or underarms. They are mostly misdiagnosed as genital warts. Consult your doctor if you notice painless sores on any part of your body.
Fever and swollen lymph glands
Swollen lymph glands and low-grade fever can appear at any stage of syphilis. According to Dr. Shepherd, “the fever is generally around 38 to 38.1 degrees Celsius and lasts for only a few days.
A fever can be a sign of lots of things, so if you haven’t noticed other signs of syphilis, it’s probably nothing to worry about. However, it’s still best to consult your doctor.
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Syphilis appears as a rash that doesn’t cause itching anywhere on your body, usually in the secondary stage if left untreated. Dr. Shepherd says these rash appear as small, rough red bumps that may go unnoticed because it doesn’t cause itching.
Most syphilis rash usually appear on the palms of your hands or the soles of your feet. However, it can appear elsewhere because the syphilis bacteria has travelled through your blood at this stage.
During the second phase of syphilis infection, some women may notice a slight weight loss, says Dr Shepherd. Other accompanying symptoms apart from weight loss are headaches, muscles aches, fatigue, and sore throat. These symptoms usually go away with or without treatment.
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If left untreated and the infection enters the third stage, it can lead to ocular syphilis. At this stage, the bacteria affect the optic nerve in the brain, according to the CDC. It can eventually lead to permanent blindness. According to Dr. Shepherd, “Syphilis is a blood-borne pathogen, so once it’s in the brain it will affect that organ. It’s just a matter of time before gets there.”
If syphilis reaches the tertiary stage, the bacteria can affect the brain, leading to a condition known as neurosyphilis, according to the CDC. Untreated syphilis and can lead to meningitis, or inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. Other symptoms may include altered behavior, sensory deficit, paralysis, and dementia.
Syphilis can be treated at any stage with antibiotics – although you’ll need to see your doctor to get diagnosed, and you’ll likely need to take medication for weeks or potentially be hospitalized for IV antibiotics at this stage. Note that syphilis can be transferred to babies if it’s not diagnosed during pregnancy. Don’t overlook those early stage symptoms of syphilis, consult your doctor immediately, so as to increase your chances of fighting the infection.
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