What's the Treatment for Syphilis?

Medically Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on May 07, 2023
3 min read

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are serious business. But if you’ve been told you have syphilis, there’s both good and bad news.

First, the bad news: If you allow the disease to go untreated for several years, it can damage your heart, blood vessels, brain, and nervous system. Syphilis can cause blindness or paralysis. It increases your chances of getting and spreading HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Over time, it can damage your organs and even lead to death.

And, of course, if you’re not treated, you’ll likely spread the STD to your sexual partner.

The good news: It’s easily treated and curable in its early stages.

The recommended treatment at all stages of this disease is the antibiotic penicillin. If you’ve been infected for less than a year, you may need just one injection of penicillin to be cured. But you may need more doses if you’ve had syphilis for more than a year.

There are no over-the-counter medications or home remedies that will cure syphilis -- only antibiotics can do that.

Yes. If you’re expecting, it’s especially important to seek treatment because you could pass the disease on to your fetus or newborn. Again, your doctor will give you penicillin. If you’re allergic to it, your doctor will have you go through a special process to enable you to take the antibiotic.

If you do spread the STD to your fetus or newborn, it can be very serious and lead to:

After getting a penicillin injection or taking other antibiotics, you may experience:

If you do have side effects, they typically only last about 24 hours.

Once you’ve completed your treatment, the antibiotics will kill the bacteria that cause syphilis and prevent any additional problems from occurring because of that particular case. But it’s important to understand that the treatment can’t reverse or heal damage that you’ve already experienced.

Make sure you take all of your medication (pills or additional injections), even if your symptoms go away during treatment.

Your doctor will likely order blood tests or exams to make sure you’re responding to the antibiotics as expected. They may ask you to talk with your sex partners so they may get tested and treated if needed. And, they’ll advise you to be tested for HIV and avoid all sexual contact until blood tests confirm you’re cured.

And remember that getting treatment doesn’t mean you can’t get syphilis again or spread it at a later time. The only way to do that is to avoid having unsafe sex. When you do have sex, always use condoms.