There are four stages of syphilis, and the disease and the symptoms change with each stage. In chronological order, the stages of syphilis are primary syphilis, secondary syphilis, latent syphilis, and tertiary syphilis. Not everyone who contracts syphilis will go through all four stages, and for some people, it may never advance past the primary stage. In general, the disease becomes more dangerous and potentially damaging as it progresses through the stages. In the final tertiary stage, syphilis can potentially be fatal.
Primary syphilis is the first and least dangerous of the stages of syphilis. A small sore will generally appear in the area of the body where the disease was contracted, which is usually in the genital or mouth area. This sore is called a chancre, and it isn’t associated with any pain. For most patients, there will only be one sore, but some may have a group of sores—the chancre will generally linger for 20 to 40 days, and then it will go away. For some people, syphilis ends right here, but for others, it advances.