Medically reviewed by Rosanna Sutherby, PharmD on March 27, 2020. Written by Jordana White. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
If you’re a sexually active woman, it’s important to be aware of sexually transmitted diseases or STDs (also known as sexually transmitted infections or STIs). It’s key to use protection every time you have sex with a new partner (with you or your partner wearing a condom, for example), or with any sex partner who hasn’t been tested for sexually transmitted infections.
Of course, it’s also important to learn about the different types of STDs that men and women can get and how to know if you have an STD.
Here, we’ll walk you through the symptoms of STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea. We’ll also give you suggestions on what to do if you think you have an STD, but remember: it’s always a good idea to seek the advice of your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Even if you have a sexually transmitted infection, you may not display any symptoms. In fact, up to 70% of women and 90% of men with chlamydia never develop symptoms. As a result, you can easily contract an STD without realizing it. For this reason, it’s important to know how women get chlamydia (and other STDs) in the first place. Taking the Everlywell at-home STD Test for women can help you determine if you have chlamydia or other common STDs.
That being said, many people with STDs develop symptoms. These symptoms tend to fall into one or more of these categories:
Every infection comes with different symptoms, and every person will experience these infections in a unique way.
How do you know if you have an STD? You may have an STD if you’re experiencing the symptoms described below—but keep in mind that testing is the only way to know for sure.
If you have a symptomatic chlamydia infection, you may experience painful urination, as well as pain in your lower abdomen. Sexual intercourse might also be painful.
The same is true for gonorrhea. Women with gonorrhea may experience painful urination and painful bowel movements. With Hepatitis A, B, and C, you could also develop abdominal, muscle, and joint pain.
STDs can also result in visible signs and symptoms. For women, one of those telltale STD symptoms is changes in your vaginal discharge.
Throughout your monthly cycle, you will see natural, healthy changes in the discharge from your vagina. It may be clear and thin, or thicker and more noticeable, depending on when you ovulate. All of these variations are completely normal.
If your discharge is thick and white, however, this could indicate a health problem, such as a yeast infection. But if your discharge is yellow or green or if it smells bad and has a frothy appearance, you could be dealing with one of three STDs: trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, or chlamydia. All of these infections cause changes in your vagina’s microflora, which can affect vaginal discharges.
Microflora are the helpful bacteria that naturally reside in your vagina. When healthy, they can help fight off infections. But they aren’t invincible, and when they undergo changes due to infections, your discharge may be noticeably different.
If your discharge is abnormal, consider taking an at-home STD test to screen for common STDs.
The appearance of bumps on the lips, or labia, of your vagina can indicate a sexually transmitted infection. If you have contracted the herpes simplex virus and now have genital herpes, you may develop clusters of red bumps around your vagina. Without treatment, they can turn into blisters that can rupture or leak blood or fluid, which can make urination painful.
Another STD that causes new bumps to appear on your body is syphilis. One of the first symptoms of syphilis is a firm, round sore in your genital area. Called a chancre, it doesn’t typically hurt, but it may appear to be open or wet.
If you notice this symptom, talk with your healthcare provider and consider getting tested immediately. Syphilis is highly contagious and, over time, can cause serious complications such as organ and brain damage if left untreated. You should never ignore these types of sores.
Some STIs won’t cause visible changes in your body, but will cause you to feel “off” or different. When first infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), you may experience flu-like symptoms, such as a sore throat, night sweats, or even vomiting and diarrhea. In the secondary stages of syphilis, you may develop a rash on your body, and you could experience hair loss.
If you contract pubic lice, also known as crabs, you’ll experience intense itching in your pelvic area. You may also notice eggs or lice in your pubic hair.
All of these could be signs or symptoms of an STD, so talk to your healthcare provider about your concerns. STD testing for men and women, which you can do from the comfort and privacy of home, is another good step to take.
Sexually transmitted infections are primarily transmitted through unprotected sex. This could be in the form of vaginal, anal, or oral sex, and—for some infections—even hand-to-genital contact. For this reason, if you use protection during sex, your odds of getting an STD will be much lower.
Your risk for STIs will be even lower if you regularly check your status and test for STDs (along with your sex partner) before beginning any new sexual relationship.
But without proper testing and precautions, your chances of getting an STD may be fairly high. In fact, according to the CDC, 25% of young women between the ages of 14 and 19 have at least one of the following common infections: HPV, herpes, chlamydia, or trichomoniasis.
You may be wondering what to do next if you test positive for an STD. Do these infections go away on their own, or will you need to seek treatment? Here’s the deal: almost all STDs will not clear up without medical intervention. If your STD test returns a positive result, you will need to follow the advice of your healthcare provider to protect your sexual health.
Fortunately, many STDs will clear up with a simple course of oral antibiotics. Bacterial infections such as gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis can all be cured with antibiotics. It is crucial, however, to complete the entire course of medication in order to truly clear up your infection. If you stop taking your medication early, even if your STD symptoms have resolved, the infection could remain in your body.
Other STIs, like hepatitis C, can be cured with some prescription medications if treated early. Hepatitis B, on the other hand, can’t be cured. The disease can only be managed with prescription medication. There is, however, a Hepatitis B vaccine. Similarly, HPV can’t be cured, but you can get vaccinated for it.
Finally, some STIs, such as herpes and HIV, have no cure or protective vaccine. Thankfully, you can manage herpes outbreaks with prescription medication, and antiretroviral drugs can help manage an HIV infection.
Contracting an STD is potentially damaging to your long-term health. If you become infected, follow the advice of your healthcare provider. But the best way to protect your health is to avoid getting infected in the first place. The best way to not get infected is to practice safe sex and do preventative STD testing.
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