Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that can cause catastrophic health complications if left untreated. It can also transmit through infected blood transfusion or passed to the child from infected mother through placental blood during pregnancy. This infectious disease is pathogenic only to humans and is caused by Treponema pallidum bacterium. It is a motile, spiral shaped gram negative bacterium.
Primary infection of syphilis causes lesions on skin and mucus membrane. Its chronic stage can damage the internal organs including the cardiovascular system and nervous system. Syphilitic ulcers may develop on skin and mucus membrane around anus, genitals and mouth.
Syphilis is divided into 3 stages, the primary, secondary and tertiary stage. Cardiovascular syphilis is manifested during tertiary stage of syphilis. Tertiary stage occurs after many years of primary infection. Cardiovascular syphilis affects heart and blood vessels. It can lead to complications such as aortitis (inflammation of aorta), aortic aneurysm, damage to heart valves, etc.
Cardiovascular syphilis occurs in about 10 percent of untreated patients of syphilis. Parenteral (injection) penicillin is the universal treatment choice for all stages of syphilis. Early detection and treatment is a key for recovery from infection and reducing complications.
Causes Of Cardiovascular Syphilis
Syphilis is a disease caused by Treponema pallidum bacteria. It is a contagious disease mainly spread through sexual contact with an infected person. Transmission can also occur through infected blood transfusion and infected mother to child in the womb. Despite the popular folklore, Treponema does not spread through contact with toilet seats.
The pathogen penetrates in an uninfected individual through mucus membrane or abraded skin. From the local site the organism quickly disseminates to several organs via blood circulation. It can then involve every system. Primary lesion occurs at the site of penetration mainly in the genital area, anus and mouth.
Stages Of Cardiovascular Syphilis
Syphilis has three stages:
- Primary stage is where the bacteria spread at the local site and disseminate in blood and lymph vessels. The bacteria spread rapidly in several parts of body including the cardiovascular system after penetration.
- Secondary stage: In this stage the bacteria invades skin, mucus membrane, cerebrospinal fluid etc. It may cause several rashes on the body, skin and mucus membrane lesions. Secondary stage begins three to six months after primary infection.
- Tertiary stage: This stage develops after many years of primary infection. It may take 3 or even 20 years to develop. The advanced stage of disease affects cardiovascular system and nervous system. Tertiary stage is extremely aggressive stage.
Cardiovascular syphilis can occur in any sexually active men or women. It is somewhat more common in men as compared to women. The condition is prevalent more in places where health care facilities are insufficient or among people living in poor socio-economic strata. People who do not take early treatment are at risk of suffering from cardiovascular syphilis.
The basic risk factors associated with syphilis is:
- Having multiple partners.
- Indulging in unsafe sexual practices.
- Having sexual relation with a person suffering from sexually transmitted disease.
Signs And Symptoms Of Cardiovascular Syphilis
Normally cardiovascular syphilis develops 10 to 20 years after the primary syphilis. The heart and its vasculature become affected with the bacteria. It causes inflammation of the arteries and injury to the valvular structure of the heart.
Syphilis in this system can be life threatening. It can lead to aneurysm of the aorta, heart attack due to narrowing of the arteries, and heart failure as a result of damage to the heart valves. The symptoms include:
- Narrowing of the coronary arteries can compromise blood flow to the heart muscles. This may result in angina and eventually heart attack.
- Weakened heart valves lead to heart failure.
- Damage and thinning of the aortic valve will cause aneurysm of aorta. Aortic aneurysm is a late complication of tertiary syphilis. It increases possibility of rupture of aorta leading to sudden death.
- Back pain, swallowing problem, cough, are some other symptoms that may develop in cardiovascular syphilis.
Treatment For Cardiovascular Syphilis
The key for cure of syphilis is its prompt recognition and early treatment. However, cardiovascular syphilis occurs at an advanced stage of syphilis that is in the tertiary stage. In this stage reversal or cure of hundred percent is not possible. The affected organ or system does not return back to normal.
However, treatment can stop further deterioration of the condition. One of the universally accepted treatments for syphilis is parentral administration of penicillin drug. In most cases it is administered intramuscularly. Since there are many people allergic to penicillin, a test dose is always given before administering the injection.