Written on November 28, 2023 by Sendra Yang, PharmD, MBA. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD); 176,713 new cases of the infection were reported in the United States in 2021. The bacteria Treponema pallidum is the causative agent of syphilis infection. Syphilis is spread by infection with the bacteria through direct skin-to-skin contact with a chancre sore.
A gumma is a tumor-like growth associated with syphilis. Continue to learn about the different stages of syphilis, the gumma of syphilis, and treatment for gummas.
Syphilis typically follows a progression of stages.[1,3,4] The early stages of syphilis include primary, secondary, and early latent. The late syphilis stage comprises the late-latent and tertiary stages. A chancre or ulcer at the entry point of the bacteria typically characterizes the primary stage.[3,4] Symptoms appear 10 to 90 days after exposure to the infection, and chancre lesions can resolve without treatment in three to six weeks.
Without proper treatment, this stage can progress to secondary syphilis. Secondary syphilis can appear two to eight weeks after the disappearance of the chancre and has various systemic organ involvement, such as hair loss, rashes, or mucous patches. The secondary stage may also be marked by lesions that are highly contagious. If primary or secondary syphilis is untreated, it is followed by an early-latent syphilis phase or late-latent stage. Late symptoms of syphilis can occur months or years after the initial infection and are known as tertiary syphilis.
Let us further focus on tertiary syphilis, also considered late-stage syphilis.[1,3,4] Tertiary syphilis is relatively rare and develops because of untreated syphilis infections. This stage of syphilis can manifest 10 to 30 years after the initial infection and be deadly.
Tertiary syphilis is further categorized into gummatous, cardiovascular, and neurosyphilis.[3,4] Multiple organs can be affected in tertiary syphilis, including the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints. The symptoms observed are dependent on the organ that is impacted. Symptoms may include severe headache, muscle weakness or paralysis, mental status changes, eye pain or redness, vision changes or loss, and hearing loss.
Gummas are granulomatous-like lesions that are clinically significant because they can cause local destruction.[3,4] They are soft, tumor-like growths of tissues that occur during the late stage of tertiary syphilis. Gummas form on the skin, bones, liver, brain, or other organs in the body.[3-5] They can be treated and will often go away with appropriate antibiotic treatment.[6,7]
There is currently no vaccine available to prevent syphilis.[6,7] However, here are some tips to help reduce your risk of getting syphilis and spreading the disease.
At Everlywell, you have the option to make an on-demand STD appointment if you think you may have been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease. You can connect with a certified clinician in less than 2 hours. The telehealth visit will include a 20- to 30-minute video call with a healthcare provider when you can discuss your sexual health concerns and get your questions answered. The healthcare provider will also provide you with personalized recommendations and next steps based on your symptoms and exposure history. This may include additional STD testing or prescription medication.
You also have an option for an at-home syphilis lab test with Everlywell. This at-home lab test is used to detect the presence or absence of Immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies against the bacteria causing syphilis. This particular test cannot be used to differentiate between an active syphilis infection and a successfully treated syphilis infection. If your test results are abnormal, you will be connected with a healthcare provider at no additional cost to discuss your case.
Sendra Yang, PharmD, MBA received her Doctor of Pharmacy and Master of Business Administration degrees from Wingate University School of Pharmacy. She is a skilled medical information professional with experience in the pharmaceutical industry, pharmacy education, and clinical practice. She has also been a medical writer and editor for consumer health and medical content. Sendra is passionate about translating complex medical concepts into simple and easy-to-understand information.