Symptoms of syphilis are often mild and it is easy to pass on the infection without knowing you have it. Many people with syphilis won't notice any symptoms for years.
Without treatment a syphilis infection develops through different stages. It can become more serious, spreading to other parts of the body.
The first symptoms of syphilis usually develop around 2 or 3 weeks after infection. The first thing a person may notice is a painless sore (called a chancre) - usually around their anus or genitals. Not everyone experiences this symptom. Chancres normally heal by themselves within 2 to 8 weeks, but without treatment the infection may progress to a second stage.
A few weeks after the early symptoms have passed, you might start to feel ill. Later symptoms include a fever, headache or swollen glands. You may also notice weight loss or small skin growths (similar to genital warts) around your anus or genitals. Some people get blotchy red rashes on their body, often on the palms of their hands or soles of their feet.
After this, a person may live with syphilis for years without any signs of infection. This is known as ‘latent syphilis’ and can last for decades. If syphilis is left undiagnosed and untreated, the infection will go on to cause serious health problems.
For more details on the long-term effects of untreated syphilis read our ‘in detail’ tab.