If you’re sexually active, including oral, anal or vaginal intercourse and genital touching, you can get a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD).
STDs often have no signs or symptoms, and even with no symptoms, you can pass the infection onto your partners. It’s important to use a condom during sex, and visit your doctor regularly for STD screenings, so you can identify and treat infections before passing it along.
If you are diagnosed with a STD, it’s important to get treated and inform your partner or partners so they can be evaluated and treated as well.
Left untreated, STDs can increase your risk of infertility or of acquiring another STD such as HIV. A STD can stimulate an immune response in the genital area which might raise the risk of HIV transmission.
Some of the following diseases can be transmitted without sexual contact, like hepatitis which can be transmitted by coming into contact with an infected person’s blood. Others, such as gonorrhea, can only be transmitted through sexual contact.
Common STD’s, their signs and symptoms
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection of your genital tract. It usually starts one to three weeks after being exposed. Signs and symptoms can often be mild and passing which makes them easy to overlook. Those may be:
- Painful urination
- Lower abdominal pain
- Vaginal discharge in women
- Discharge from the penis in men
- Pain during sexual intercourse in women
- Bleeding between periods in women
- Testicular pain in men
Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection of your genital tract. It can also grow in your mouth, throat, eyes and anus. The first gonorrhea symptoms usually appear within 10 days after exposure. However, it’s not uncommon for people to be infected for months before signs or symptoms occur. Signs and symptoms of gonorrhea may include:
- Thick, cloudy or bloody discharge from the penis or vagina
- Pain or burning sensation when urinating
- Heavy menstrual bleeding or bleeding between periods
- Painful, swollen testicles in men
- Painful bowel movements
- Anal itching
Genital herpes is highly contagious and caused by a type of the herpes simplex virus (HSV) that enters your body through small breaks in your skin or mucous membranes. Most people never know they have it, because they have no symptoms or the symptoms are so mild they go unnoticed.
When present, genital herpes signs and symptoms may include:
- Small red bumps, blisters (vesicles) or open sores (ulcers) in the genital, anal and nearby areas
- Pain or itching around the genital area, buttocks and inner thighs
The initial symptom of genital herpes is usually pain or itching, which begins within a few weeks of exposure. After several days small red bumps may appear. They then rupture, becoming ulcers which ooze or bleed, and eventually, scabs form and the ulcers heal.
In women, sores can erupt in the vaginal area, external genitals, buttocks, anus or cervix.
Ulcers can make urination painful. You may also have pain and tenderness in your genital area until the infection clears. During an initial episode, you may have flu-like signs and symptoms, such as headache, muscle aches and fever, as well as swollen lymph nodes in your groin.
In some cases, the infection can be active and contagious even when sores aren’t present.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection is one of the most common types of STDs. Some forms put women at high risk of cervical cancer, and other forms can cause genital warts. HPV usually has no signs or symptoms, however the signs and symptoms of genital warts include:
- Small, flesh-colored or gray swellings in your genital area
- Several warts close together which take on a cauliflower shape
- Itching or discomfort in your genital area
- Bleeding during intercourse
Sometimes genital warts cause no symptoms. Genital warts may be as small as 1 millimeter in diameter or may multiply into clusters. In women, genital warts can grow on the vulva, the walls of the vagina, the area between the external genitals and the anus, and the cervix. In men, they may occur on the tip or shaft of the penis, the scrotum, or the anus. Genital warts can also develop in the mouth or throat of a person who has had oral sex with an infected person.
Hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C are all contagious viral infections that affect your liver. Hepatitis B and C are the most serious of the three, but each can cause your liver to become inflamed. Some people never develop signs or symptoms. But for those who do, signs and symptoms may occur after several weeks and may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain or discomfort, especially in the area of your liver on your right side beneath your lower ribs
- Loss of appetite
- Dark urine
- Muscle or joint pain
- Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
HIV is an infection of the human immunodeficiency virus. HIV interferes with your body’s ability to fight off viruses, bacteria and fungi that cause illness and lead to AIDS, a chronic, life-threatening disease. When first infected, you may have no symptoms. Some people develop a flu-like illness, usually two to six weeks after being infected. Still, the only way you know to know for sure is to be HIV tested. Some early HIV signs and symptoms may be:
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph glands
These early signs and symptoms usually disappear within a week to a month and are often mistaken for those of another viral infection. During this period, you’re highly infectious. More-persistent or severe symptoms of HIV infection may not appear for 10 years or more after the initial infection.
As the virus continues to multiply and destroy immune cells, you may develop mild infections or chronic signs and symptoms such as:
- Swollen lymph nodes — often one of the first signs of HIV infection
- Weight loss
- Cough and shortness of breath
Signs and symptoms of late-stage HIV infection include:
- Persistent, unexplained fatigue
- Soaking night sweats
- Shaking chills or fever higher than 100.4 F (38 C) for several weeks
- Swelling of lymph nodes for more than three months
- Chronic diarrhea
- Persistent headaches
- Unusual, opportunistic infections
If you suspect you have any of these or other STDs, or have been exposed to one, see your doctor for testing. Timely diagnosis and treatment are important to avoid or delay more-severe health problems and to avoid infecting others.