Diagnose on Sight: Palmar Rash

Aug 19, 14
Diagnose on Sight: Palmar Rash

palmar rashCase: A 41 year old male with one week of non-pruritic palmar rash that started on his trunk and spread to his hands. He has no history of travel, fever, joint pains, or medication use. What is your diagnosis for this palmar rash? Click on the image for a larger view.

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Palmar rash from secondary syphilis


“The Great Imitator” is making a comeback. Between 2011 and 2012, the number of reported primary and secondary syphilis cases increased 12.1%. From 2005 to 2013 the number of cases nearly doubled.1 In 2012, 75% of the reported primary and secondary syphilis cases were among men who have sex with men.2

The rash of secondary syphilis is generally pink or dusky red and papular. The skin is indurated and there is often a superficial scale on the lesions. Though it typically involves the palms and soles, it can start on the trunk and spread to the entire body.3

A brief review of the stages of syphilis4:

Stage Time Course Clinical Manifestations
Primary ~21 days from innoculation Painless chancre
Secondary 3-6 weeks after end of primary stage Fever, headache, lymphadenopathy, malaise, rash, sore throat
Tertiary 3-20 years after infection Dementia, granulomatous lesions (gummata), meningitis, neuropathy (tabes dorsalis), thoracic aneurysm


Master Clinician Bedside Pearls

Stuart Swadron, MD

Stuart Swadron, MD – Professor of Emergency Medicine, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (provided to ALiEM and recorded by Swadron, 2014)

Patton M E, Su J R, Nelson R, Weinstock H. Primary and Secondary Syphilis – United States, 2005-2013. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6318a4.htm. Published May 9, 2014.
STD Facts – Syphilis & MSM. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/STDFact-MSM-Syphilis.htm.
Dylewski J, Duong M. The rash of secondary syphilis. CMAJ. 2007;176(1):33-35. [PubMed]
Nobay F, Promes SB. Chapter 144. Sexually Transmitted Diseases. In: Tintinalli JE, Stapczynski J, Ma O, Cline DM, Cydulka RK, Meckler GD, T. eds. Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 7e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2011.

Author information

Jeff Riddell, MD

Jeff Riddell, MD

Assistant Professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine
Co-Director, Medical Education Fellowship
LA County + USC Emergency Medicine Residency, Department of Emergency Medicine
Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California

The post Diagnose on Sight: Palmar Rash appeared first on ALiEM.

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