STDs in Women: A Comprehensive Guide

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on March 27, 2020. Written by Caitlin Boyd. 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.


Read more: How do you know if you have an STD? | What causes STDs? | What are the most common STDs? | What are some other infections that can affect women's health? | What should I do if I think I have an STD? | What should I do if my test results are positive? | How can I protect my health after STD treatment? | Can I get pregnant after an STD?

Each year, millions of Americans contract a sexually transmitted disease (STD), also known as sexually transmitted infections or STIs. As of 2018, STD rates are on the rise. Combined cases of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia have reached an all-time high. STDs in women can have serious consequences for both health and fertility. Unfortunately, many STDs cause no symptoms, and women are often unaware they're infected.

At-home STD testing with an Everlywell kit offers a discreet way to learn your STD status. This at-home lab test checks for 6 of the most common STDs—helping you protect your health and receive the treatment you need.

Everlywell

How do you know if you have an STD?

If you have a sexually transmitted disease or infection, you may develop any of the following STD symptoms:

  • Sore throat
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Genital sores
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Genital itching
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Chronic pelvic pain

Keep in mind that women often have asymptomatic (no noticeable symptoms) sexually transmitted infections. But, while these infections may not cause any noticeable STD symptoms, they can still harm your health and fertility. You can also pass on an STD to your sex partner(s), even if you have no symptoms.

STD testing is the only way to determine your status, and the Everlywell at-home STD Test for women makes it easy for you to do exactly that.

What causes STDs?

STDs are caused by pathogens. A pathogen is a harmful microorganism, like a virus or bacterium. When pathogens spread between humans, infections can occur.

Each microorganism spreads in a unique way. But all STDs can spread through sexual contact with an infected person (including vaginal, oral, and anal sex). Some diseases may also spread through infected objects. For example, if you share a sex toy with your partner who has an STD, you could become infected as well.

You can help prevent STDs by practicing safe sex. Using condoms during sexual intercourse can keep you from spreading an infection to your partner and lower your risk of catching an STD.

But these precautions don't always prevent STDs. Anyone who is sexually active is at risk of catching an STD during their lifetime. Testing can help detect the infection early, and prompt treatment can lower the risk of STD complications.

What are the most common STDs?

There are more than 20 known STDs, and each one has a unique impact on your health. The Everlywell at-home STD Test checks for the following infections.

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is caused by a bacterium known as Chlamydia trachomatis. In women, this bacterium infects the cervix, rectum, and throat.

Chlamydia is most common in young women and women with multiple sex partners. Unfortunately, chlamydia usually causes no symptoms. Women with a chlamydial infection are often unaware that they're infected. But without treatment, chlamydia can harm your fertility.

Over time, chlamydia can spread to the uterus and fallopian tubes. This type of widespread infection is known as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can cause infertility and increases your risk of pregnancy complications. Chlamydial infections can also pass to your baby during childbirth. Newborns infected with chlamydia sometimes develop pneumonia or other life-threatening health problems.

Chlamydia is currently the most common STD in the United States. Almost 1.8 million Americans were diagnosed with a chlamydial infection in 2018. Fortunately, chlamydia is treatable with antibiotics. When treated early, most women experience no lasting complications.

Take our Chlamydia and Gonorrhea Test from the privacy of home


Gonorrhea

Like chlamydia, gonorrhea is a bacterial infection. The disease infects your mouth, vagina, and anus. Gonorrhea is widespread, affecting over 580,000 Americans in 2018.

A gonorrhea infection usually causes mild symptoms in the early stages. But as the disease progresses, you may develop abnormal bleeding or painful urination. You might also have yellow or green vaginal discharge. Without treatment, gonorrhea can lead to PID. Gonorrhea also spreads to babies during vaginal childbirth. Sometimes, babies exposed to gonorrhea develop eye infections and blindness. The bacteria can also enter the infant's blood, causing serious health problems.

A gonorrhea infection can be treated with antibiotics. But today, many strains of gonorrhea have developed a resistance to common antibiotics. If you have gonorrhea, your healthcare provider can recommend an effective treatment. They can provide information on follow-up tests after treatment. You may need repeated tests to ensure that your infection has responded to treatment.

Syphilis

Syphilis is another STD caused by a bacterial infection. This disease usually infects the vagina, lips, mouth, and anus. Syphilis spreads through sexual contact, and between a mother and her unborn child. A child infected with syphilis in the womb may develop congenital syphilis. Sadly, congenital syphilis causes dozens of newborn deaths each year.

In its early stages, syphilis causes painless sores around your vagina or anus. Sometimes, these sores may occur inside your body, where they're not visible. As a result, it can be hard to detect syphilis in its early stages. Some people may not develop any sores at all.

But as the disease progresses, you enter a stage known as secondary syphilis. During this stage, you're highly contagious. People with secondary syphilis often develop a rash or flulike symptoms. These symptoms can come and go. If your symptoms disappear, you may assume that the disease is gone. But syphilis doesn't clear up on its own. A syphilis infection won't go away unless you receive medical care.

Without treatment, syphilis can lead to pregnancy complications, blindness, and paralysis. By the time these symptoms appear, it may be too late to reverse the underlying damage. Antibiotics can prevent the infection from progressing, but you need treatment as soon as possible to avoid long-lasting health problems.

Learn more about the Everlywell at-home Syphilis Test


Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is caused by a viral infection. The virus usually spreads through sexual contact, but it can also spread through infected blood, shared needles, and nonsterile tattooing needles.

About 3.5 million Americans currently have hepatitis C, and most don't know it. Hepatitis C may not cause any symptoms, but it can lead to serious liver damage. Some people with this disease may develop liver failure or liver cancer. These complications can be fatal.

Antiviral medications can clear hepatitis C from your body. For many people, hepatitis C is curable. However, treatment delay can result in irreversible liver damage. In some cases, a liver transplant may be the only option.

Take our Hepatitis C Test from the privacy and convenience of home


HIV

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a serious, potentially fatal infection. HIV spreads through sexual contact and infected needles. Rarely, it can spread through blood transfusions.

Since 1992, the United States screens blood donations for HIV. But if you receive a transfusion in a developing nation, you may be at risk. Talk to your healthcare provider if you may have been exposed to contaminated blood.

Once you're infected with HIV, it can take a long time for symptoms to appear. Symptoms of HIV can include:

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Frequent infections
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Chills
  • Night sweats

Some people may not develop any symptoms for years. But you're still contagious during this period and can spread the virus to your sex partner(s). Over time, HIV destroys the cells within your body that respond to infection. Without treatment, HIV can be fatal.

While there's currently no cure for HIV, medication can help you live a longer, healthier life. The sooner you get diagnosed and start taking medication, the better your chances for long-term health.

Check for HIV from the privacy of home with our HIV Test


Herpes

Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV-1 usually causes cold sores around the mouth, while HSV-2 triggers genital herpes.

Genital herpes can result in painful blisters around your vagina. You may also develop sores around your anus. These sores often itch or tingle, and they sometimes ooze fluid. People with genital herpes can also develop flu-like symptoms, such as swollen lymph nodes.

Women can spread herpes to their babies during vaginal delivery. Babies born with genital herpes can develop life-threatening medical problems. If you’re pregnant and have herpes, your healthcare provider will take precautions. You may receive a C-section to reduce the risk of spreading the disease to your baby.

Genital herpes isn't curable, and you may experience recurring outbreaks. But medication can reduce your risk of outbreak and heal existing sores. Taking your medication can also lower your risk of spreading the disease to others.


Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis, often known as “trich,” is a common STD caused by a parasite. More than 3 million people in the U.S. have trich, but only 30% develop symptoms. In women, symptoms may include:

  • Itching, burning, or soreness
  • Painful urination
  • Change in vaginal discharge

Trich seldom causes serious health complications, but it may increase your risk of contracting other STDs. Pregnant women with trich might also be at risk for premature delivery.

Medication usually clears up the infection quickly. However, you can catch the disease again after receiving treatment. If you're diagnosed with trich, your sex partner(s) will need to undergo testing and potentially treatment. You'll also need to practice safer sex to reduce your risk of reinfection.

Check for trichomoniasis from the comfort of home with our Trichomoniasis Test

What are some other infections that can affect women's health?

Genital Warts

Genital warts are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). There are many strains of this virus. Most people who engage in sexual activity become infected with a least one during their lifetime, but not everyone develops visible warts in the genital area.

In women, warts usually appear around the vulva or inside the vagina. You can also develop warts around or inside the anus. Some people develop warts in their mouth or throat if they had oral sex with an infected person.

Genital warts are usually not painful, and they often disappear on their own. But some HPV strains, which don’t cause genital warts, significantly increases your risk of cervical cancer. Routine Pap smears and/or HPV testing (which can be done with an HPV test kit that lets you collect your sample at home) can help give an early warning of these high-risk HPV strains. When detected and treated early, cervical cancer is rarely fatal. Your healthcare provider can remove precancerous cells during an in-office procedure.


Bacterial vaginosis

Your vagina contains many different species of bacteria and fungi. Most of these microorganisms aren't harmful. Sometimes, though, you may experience an overgrowth of certain microbes. If this occurs, you might develop itching, discharge, or a foul vaginal odor.

Bacterial vaginosis occurs due to bacterial overgrowth. While this condition is not considered an STD, unprotected sex seems to be a risk factor. Some cases of bacterial vaginosis may also result from having sex with a new partner. Symptoms usually resolve with antibiotics.


Yeast infections

Yeast infections result from an overgrowth of fungus within the vagina. Most women experience a few yeast infections during their lifetime. Yeast infections are seldom sexually transmitted. But unprotected sex may increase your risk of getting a yeast infection. Yeast infections usually respond to cream, vaginal suppositories, and antifungal pills.

If you have frequent yeast infections, your healthcare provider can offer guidance.

What should I do if I think I have an STD?

If you think you might have an STD, consider getting tested. The Everlywell at-home sexually transmitted infections test checks for six of the most common sexually transmitted infections. This discreet, at-home lab test can be performed in the privacy of your own home. During your test, you collect a small sample of blood with a simple finger prick. You also use the included swab to collect a sample of vaginal fluid.

STD testing is also available at your healthcare provider or a sexual health clinic. Your provider can offer more details on STDs and women's health.

What should I do if my test results are positive?

Your Everlywell test results are reviewed by a board-certified physician. If your results reveal that you have chlamydia, gonorrhea, or trichomoniasis, you can speak to a member of the Everlywell physician network. In some cases, this provider may be able to prescribe medication.

If you receive a positive test result, keep in mind that most STDs are cured or controlled with medication. If your STD was detected early, you might not experience any lasting health concerns.

Visit your healthcare provider for an in-office exam if you test positive. Your provider can offer additional testing. They can also provide information about future pregnancies, fertility treatments, and much more. Keep in mind that healthcare providers must report certain test results to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC tracks outbreaks of infectious diseases, including sexually transmitted infections. This organization focuses on disease control and prevention, and identifying local outbreaks helps public health departments provide citizens with the care they need.

You won't get in trouble for having an STD, but the public health department may ask you to notify your previous sexual partners. Telling your past partners that they may have been exposed to an STD is the responsible thing to do. Your health department can make these reports anonymously if you prefer.

How can I protect my health after STD treatment?

After you receive treatment for an STD, your provider may recommend follow-up tests. These tests help confirm that your STD has cleared up. If your STD is not curable, you may also need ongoing blood tests to track the disease's progress. Your provider can explain what kind of care you need in the future.

Safe sex is more important than ever after an STD diagnosis. You can contract most STDs more than once, so if you're sexually active, you may need to get tested on a regular basis. People who have multiple risk factors for STD exposure may need testing several times a year.

Don't overlook the importance of preventive care. During an annual checkup, your provider can perform a pelvic exam and Pap smear. These tests identify health problems like cervical cancer in their early stages. During your visit, your provider can also explain how to lower your risk of catching an STD in the future.

Can I get pregnant after an STD?

Most women are able to get pregnant after receiving STD treatment. But some STDs can cause lasting damage to your uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. If you're diagnosed with pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), you may have some trouble getting pregnant. You might also experience an ectopic pregnancy.

Ectopic pregnancies occur when a fertilized egg gets stuck in the fallopian tubes. During a normal pregnancy, a fertilized egg implants in the uterine line. But if the egg implants in the fallopian tubes, you may develop life-threatening complications.

Symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy include:

  • Bleeding during pregnancy
  • Pelvic pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Lightheadedness

An ectopic pregnancy is not viable, and it can't be carried to term. During an ectopic pregnancy, you need medical care right away. If you suspect that your pregnancy may be ectopic, call 911 or go directly to the ER.

If you have trouble getting pregnant after an STD, fertility treatment may help. Your provider can help you explore ways to increase your chances of conception. A fertility specialist can also offer specialized advice and treatments.

Women who have an STD during pregnancy need special care. If you receive a positive test result and you're pregnant, notify your healthcare provider right away. They can explain the next steps to take.


Everlywell can give you the STD testing insights you need. Order your at-home STD Test for women today.


What Do STD Discharges Look Like?

7 Health Tips For Women’s Health Week

How do you know if you have an STD?

What are the different types of STDs that men and women can get?

How do women get chlamydia?


References

1. New CDC Report: STDs Continue to Rise in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

2. Sexually transmitted disease (STD) symptoms. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

3. What causes sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? National Institutes of Health. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

4. Are sex toys safe? National Health Service. URL. Accessed March 24, 2020.

5. Sexually Transmitted Diseases. MedlinePlus. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

6. Chlamydia Infections. MedlinePlus. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

7. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

8. Chlamydia - CDC Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

9. Chlamydia - CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

10. Gonorrhea. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

11. Gonorrhea - CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed Version). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

12. Antibiotic-Resistant Gonorrhea. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

13. Syphilis - CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

14. 2015 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines: Emerging Issues. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

15. Hepatitis C Kills More Americans than Any Other Infectious Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

16. U.S. Public Health Service Guidelines for Testing and Counseling Blood and Plasma Donors for Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 Antigen. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

17. Symptoms of HIV. HIV.gov. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

18. Genital Herpes - CDC Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

19. Trichomoniasis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

20. Genital HPV Infection - Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

21. What's LEEP?. Planned Parenthood. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

22. Bacterial vaginosis. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

23. Yeast infection (vaginal). Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

24. Guidance on Reporting Case Status for STD Case Reports. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

25. What You Need to Know About STDs. Stanford Children's Health. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

26. Ectopic pregnancy. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed March 27, 2020.

Everlywell makes lab testing easy and convenient with at-home collection and digital results in days. Learn More