Even without treatment for syphilis, only a minority of infected people develop the complications associated with tertiary (or late) syphilis. In this stage, the bacteria will damage your internal organs, including the heart, eyes, brain, nervous system, bones, liver, joints, or almost any other part of your body. This damage can happen years or even decades after the primary stage.
Late symptoms of syphilis can include:
- Mental illness
- Small bumps or tumors on organs
- Memory loss
- Difficulty coordinating muscle movements
- Heart disease
- Arthritis (see Infectious Arthritis)
Late neurosyphilis (brain or spinal cord damage) is one of the most severe signs of this stage. An example of neurosyphilis is a disease called tabes dorsalis.
Having an HIV infection at the same time can change the symptoms of syphilis and the course of the disease.