Symptoms and Signs of Syphilis in Women

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 8/12/2021

Doctor's Notes on Syphilis in Women

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection. There are three stages of syphilis:

  • In the first stage, the main symptom of syphilis in women is the formation of an ulcer (chancre), which develops 10 to 90 days after infection and is highly contagious.
  • In the secondary stage, symptoms of syphilis in women include skin rash (often on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet, that does not itch), hair losssore throatfeverheadache, and white patches in the nose, mouth, and vagina. Lesions on the genitals that look like genital warts but are not true warts may occur. The rash and lesions are highly contagious. 
  • In the third stage, also called the latent stage, of syphilis, the infection is present without symptoms and no longer contagious. However, problems throughout the body may occur 10 to 20 years after the initial infection including heart problems, large nodules developing in various organs of the body, infection of the brain (causing a stroke, mental confusion, meningitis, problems with sensation, or weakness), vision problems, and deafness. The damage caused in this later stage of syphilis can be severe and even fatal.

What Is the Treatment for Syphilis in Women?

Syphilis is easy to cure in its early stages with antibiotics. Long-acting penicillin administered through injection is the treatment of choice:

  • A single intramuscular injection of long-acting Benzathine penicillin G will cure primary, secondary, or early latent syphilis. 
  • Three doses of long-acting of the medication at weekly intervals is recommended for the treatment of late latent syphilis or latent syphilis of unknown duration. 

While penicillin will kill the responsible bacteria and prevent further damage, there is no treatment currently available to repair the damage that may be present in late-stage syphilis.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.