Woman lying on the couch with her hand on her head wondering what STDs cause headaches

STDs That Cause Headaches

Written on December 19, 2023 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. 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.

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Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) cause varying symptoms, one of which can be a headache. You may be wondering, which are the STDs that cause headaches? Read this article for everything you need to know and how to treat these STDs.

What Are STDs?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), are conditions that are typically passed via sexual contact (oral, vaginal, and/or anal) and are caused by bacteria, viruses, and/or parasites. While STDs are usually transmitted via the fluids exchanged during sexual activity, STDs can also be passed during pregnancy and/or childbirth.[1]

Different STDs are spread via different pathogens and present with different symptoms. STDs transmitted via bacteria include gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia. The STD transmitted via parasite is trichomoniasis. And the STDs that are caused by viruses include human papillomavirus (HPV), herpes, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).[1]

The best ways to prevent the spread and contraction of STDs is to practice safe sex and to know your sexual partners. Getting regularly tested and ensuring that the people you are sexually involved with are also regularly tested is recommended for preventing the transmission of STDs. If you are curious about the state of your sexual health and/or simply want to take a proactive approach to your sexual well-being, consult a qualified healthcare provider for guidance and testing options.

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Which STDs Cause Headaches?

Not all STDs present with symptoms and the symptoms of each STD can vary. Below are some of the STDs that cause headaches [2,3,4]:

  • Herpes: This STD is very common, and the oral type of herpes is estimated to affect more than 50% of the adult population in the United States. Early onset of herpes may not present with symptoms, but genital herpes can cause lesions, fever, swollen glands, headache, and painful urination.
  • Syphilis: This STD begins as an infection that can develop in several stages. Typically, symptoms of a headache appear during the secondary stage of syphilis, in which skin rashes and sores on the mouth, vagina, or anus can also appear. Without treatment, the progression of syphilis can worsen, spreading to the brain and/or nervous system. If this occurs, a severe headache can also coincide with several other undesirable symptoms including muscle weakness, changes in cognition, changes in vision, and dizziness.
  • HIV: This STD targets the immune system, which makes it easier for you to become sick, as it makes individuals immunocompromised. While there is no cure for HIV, there are medications to help manage it. While not usually an early sign of HIV, if HIV worsens or continues to destroy immune cells in the body, it can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Signs of AIDS can include headache in addition to thrush, a sore throat, yeast infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, dizziness, loss of weight, and diarrhea.

How To Treat The STDs That Cause Headaches

Treatment for STDs will vary based on your unique needs and what a healthcare provider recommends. Generally, treatments for the STDs that cause headaches include [5,6,7]:

  • Herpes treatment: While there is no cure for genital herpes, it is commonly managed through the use of antiviral medicines. More research is needed surrounding which vaccines are most effective for preventing herpes contraction.
  • Syphilis treatment: The early stages of syphilis can usually be treated with a single injection of Benzathine penicillin G. If the STD has progressed to later stages, it is recommended to have several doses of this medication at weekly intervals.
  • HIV treatment- while there is no cure for HIV, there are medications to help manage it. These medications are important to prevent advancement. In addition, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is also important to be aware of, as developing HIV can sometimes be prevented if PEP is started early enough. Meaning, if you believe that you may have been exposed to HIV and begin treatment within a two to three-day window, there is a chance of preventing the transmission. If HIV is already in your system, there are many antiretroviral drugs that you can take, which help to stop the virus from replicating in the body. Often, a combination of drugs may be needed to manage HIV most effectively.

Support Your Sexual Health With Everlywell

At Everlywell, we combine the best in modernized, rigorous lab testing with easy-to-access, at-home medicine. We provide a range of blood tests, including several of our sexual health tests, that you can take from the comfort of your home. Your results will be analyzed in CLIA-certified labs and an experienced healthcare provider will deliver your results. Take control of your health and sexual well-being today with Everlywell.

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  1. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sexually-transmitted-diseases-stds/symptoms-causes/syc-20351240#:~:text=Overview. Accessed December 8, 2023.
  2. Herpes. American Sexual Health Association. https://www.ashasexualhealth.org/herpes/. Accessed December 8, 2023.
  3. STD Facts - Syphilis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/stdfact-syphilis.htm. Published February 10, 2022. Accessed December 8, 2023.
  4. Planned Parenthood. Plannedparenthood.org. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/hiv-aids/what-are-symptoms-hivaids. Accessed December 8, 2023.
  5. Genital Herpes Treatment. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/treatment.htm#:~:text=for%20genital%20herpes%3F-. Last reviewed December 8, 2021. Accessed December 8, 2023.
  6. Syphilis Treatment. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/treatment.htm#:~:text=A%20single%20injection%20of%20long. Last reviewed August 11, 2023. Accessed December 8, 2023.
  7. HIV and AIDS - treatment. National Health Service. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hiv-and-aids/treatment/#:~:text=HIV%20is%20treated%20with%20antiretroviral. Last reviewed April 22, 2021. Accessed December 8, 2023.

Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT works with a wide variety of individuals, ranging in age from children to the elderly, with an assortment of concerns and clinical conditions. She helps individuals optimize overall health and/or manage disease states using personalized medical nutrition therapy techniques.

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