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Syphillis
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Syphilis

Diseases & Conditions A-Z

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WOMEN'S HEALTH

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

MEN'S HEALTH

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. The disease affects your genitals, skin and mucous membranes, but may also involve many other parts of your body, including your brain and your heart.

Left untreated, the disease can lead to serious complications or death. But with early diagnosis and use of antibiotics, syphilis can be successfully treated.

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of syphilis occur in stages. These include:

Primary
These signs may occur from 10 days to 6 weeks after exposure:

  • Painless sores (lesions) on your genitals, rectum, tongue or lips

  • Enlarged lymph nodes in your groin

Signs and symptoms of primary syphilis may disappear without treatment, but the underlying disease remains and will reappear in the secondary or tertiary stage.

Secondary
The signs and symptoms of secondary syphilis may begin 2 to 8 weeks after the first stage:

  • Rash over any area of your body, including the palms and soles

  • Fever

  • Fatigue and a vague feeling of discomfort

  • Soreness and aching in your bones or joints

Following the secondary stage is an intermediate period called latent syphilis.

Tertiary
Without treatment, the syphilis bacteria may spread, leading years later to infection affecting various organs in your body.

Some of the signs and symptoms of tertiary syphilis include:

  • Neurologic problems. These may include stroke, infection and inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding your brain and spinal cord (meningitis), personality changes, psychiatric illness, and spinal damage with resulting abnormal gait and sensation.

  • Cardiovascular problems. These may include bulging (aneurysm) and inflammation of the aorta, your body's major artery, and of other blood vessels.

Causes

The bacterial organism that causes syphilis, Treponema pallidum, enters your body through minor cuts or abrasions in your skin or mucous membranes during sexual activity. Other routes of syphilis transmission are by transfusion of infected blood, by direct unprotected close contact with an active lesion (such as during kissing), and from a mother to her unborn child during pregnancy.

Treponema pallidum is extremely sensitive to light, air and changes in temperature. It can live only within the human body. The disease is difficult to transmit except by intimate contact.

Screening and diagnosis

If you have painless sores in your genital area and enlarged lymph nodes in your groin area, see your doctor. These may be signs of syphilis. The sooner you see your doctor, the sooner you can have the condition treated and prevent its spread and progression. Left untreated, the disease can result in more serious health problems.

In the primary stage of syphilis, the appearance of painless sores and swollen lymph nodes in the groin area is a clue to the diagnosis. Your doctor also may scrape a small sample of cells from a sore to be analyzed by microscope in the laboratory. Blood tests can confirm the presence of antibodies to the organism that causes syphilis. These tests remain positive indefinitely unless you receive effective treatment.

During latent syphilis, when no symptoms are evident, your doctor can use blood tests to diagnose the infection.

Complications

If you're pregnant, it's possible for you to pass syphilis to your unborn child. Blood containing the bacterial infection reaches the fetus through the placenta. About half of women who are pregnant and who have syphilis pass the disease along to their children. Sometimes, an unborn baby infected with syphilis may die or be stillborn. If your baby is born infected with syphilis, signs of the disease may be evident at birth or may develop when your baby is between 2 weeks and 3 months old.

Treatment

Early diagnosis and treatment with penicillin or a similar antibiotic can kill the organism that causes syphilis and stop the progression of the disease. Left untreated, the disease can lead to serious complications or death.

If transmitted to a fetus, syphilis can cause deformity and death. Even if you were treated for syphilis during your pregnancy, your newborn child should receive antibiotic treatment.

To make sure you're responding to the usual dosage of penicillin, your doctor likely will want you to have periodic blood tests. While you're being treated, avoid sexual contact until the treatment is completed and until at least two blood tests indicate that the infection has been eliminated.

Prevention

To reduce your risk of syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases, practice safer sex:

  • Avoid sex or limit sexual relations to a single, uninfected partner.

  • Use a latex condom with each sexual contact.

  • Avoid excessive use of alcohol or other drugs, which can cloud judgment and lead to unsafe sexual practices.

 

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Disclaimer

This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
In no event will The DrEddyClinic.com be liable for any decision made or action taken in reliance upon the information provided through this web site.

 

 



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Last Modified : 03/15/08 02:22 AM