std symptoms

STD Symptoms, Causes, Treatment And Prevention

If you are sexually active, regardless of your sexual orientations, you are at risk of getting or transmitting a sexually transmitted disease (STD). This is why it is so important to know and identify STD symptoms when you see them. While it is true that safe sex can reduce your risk of STD’s, they do not offer 100% protection from infection.

While some sexually transmitted diseases present with visible and physical symptoms, it is important to recognize subtle STD symptoms as well so you can begin treatment immediately. Effective and fast STD treatment is important to reduce your risk of contracting another.

Symptoms caused by bacteria:

Before your doctor can conduct STD testing, he or she will question you regarding the symptoms you are experiencing. By recognizing the symptoms of a bacterial infection such as chlamydia or gonorrhea you can help your medical professional come up with an effective STD treatment plan.

Chancroid Symptoms

Since instances of chancroid are declining (less than 30 cases in 2012), many sexually active individuals are unaware of this STD or its symptoms. Men are more infected by chancroid than women; however both genders can be at risk.

If you notice the following symptoms you may have chancroid;

  • Swollen glands in the groin region
  • Open sores on the rectum, penis or vulva
  • Soreness and puss from genitals
Chlamydia symptoms

The symptoms of the bacterial infection known as chlamydia may not be easy to spot in the early stages because there are little to no symptoms of problems. The biggest problem with this STD is that it takes a few weeks for the symptoms to appear and even then, they are quite mild which makes them easy to ignore.

Ignoring however, will not make the symptoms go away. If you are experiencing any of the following, see your physician immediately:

  • Pain during intercourse for women
  • Pain during urinating
  • Pain located in the lower abdominal region
  • Vaginal or penile discharge
  • Pain in the testicles for men
Gonorrhea symptoms

The symptoms of gonorrhea take anywhere from two to 10 days to make an appearance, but in rare cases symptoms don’t appear for months. If you believe you may have contracted an STD from a sexual partner, watch out for common gonorrhea symptoms:

  • Anal itching
  • Burning sensation or pain while urinating
  • Swollen or soreness in testicles
  • Pain during bowel movements
  • Unusual menstrual bleeding
  • Genital discharge that is bloody, thick or cloudy
Granuloma inguinale (donovanosis) symptoms

This sexually transmitted disease isn’t quite as prominent worldwide as it once was, however it can be transmitted through vaginal or anal sex and less often during oral sex. Look for the following granuloma inguinale symptoms:

  • Sores in or around the anus
  • Small red bumps on the anus and genitals
  • Destroying and rubbing away of genital skin
  • Bleeding of nodules on genitals
  • Tissue damage on the legs near the genitals
Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV)

LGV is a chronic sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria. One of the main risk factors for contracting LGV is being HIV positive. Symptoms can occur within a just a few days or as long as a month after coming in contact with someone infected. You may have LGV if you exhibit any of the following symptoms:

  • Pain during bowel movements
  • Swelling or redness of the labia or groin skin
  • Pus or blood in the rectum
  • Sores on the genitals or genital tract
  • Lymph node drainage from skin in the groin
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
Syphilis Symptoms

Syphilis is one of the most difficult STDs to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to many other sexually transmitted infections. There are four different stages of this disease that sometimes overlap, which is why you must note the symptoms right away.

If you have any of the following symptoms, you may have contracted syphilis;

  • Sores in the mouth, anus or vagina
  • Skin rashes (red or brown, rough) on hands or feet
  • White lesions
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Symptoms caused by viruses:

Genital Herpes Symptoms

Genital herpes are a result of the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Even though most people infected by genital herpes exhibit no symptoms, many people ignore the symptoms or mistake them for other more benign diseases.

If you have genital herpes the symptom you might have is probably blisters on or around the anus or genitals.

Genital warts

Genital warts can develop through vaginal or anal sex, but they can also occur in and around the mouth and throat if oral sex is performed on a person infected with genital warts. Signs or symptoms of genital warts include:

  • Bleeding during intercourse
  • Discomfort or itching in genital region
  • Cauliflower-shaped clusters in or on anus, penis, vaginal walls, cervix or scrotum
  • Gray or flesh-colored swelling in genital area

Hepatitis is not commonly thought of as an STD however hepatitis B can be transmitted sexually. Hepatitis symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Jaundice skin or eyes (yellowing)
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Fluid build-up in the abdomen

If you have the viral infection known as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) you will have problems fighting off a variety of illness that include viruses, fungi as well as bacteria. Untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS which is why it is important to recognize the symptoms of this STD early on.

If you are feeling constantly ill with no clear illness, don’t ignore these problems, instead schedule an appointment immediately. HIV symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Swollen lymph glands or lymph nodes
  • Weight loss
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Diarrhea
  • Prolonged fever

It is easy to chalk these symptoms up to a common cold or seasonal allergies, which is why it is so important that you get tested for STDs as soon as you notice more than a few of these symptoms.

Molluscum contagiosum

Although not a traditional sexually transmitted disease, molluscum contagiosum is a skin infection that can be transmitted sexually. These are papules, or pearl-like bumps, that are the main sign and symptom. These papules have the following characteristics:

  • 2 to 4mm in diameter
  • Itchy but painless
  • Dome-shaped
  • Flesh-colored
  • The core will be white and waxy
  • Dimple or dip in the center of the papule

Symptoms caused by protozoan:


Trichomoniasis can be tricky to diagnose because men rarely exhibit symptoms of this disease when infected. Although trichomoniasis affects men in the urinary tract, women are nearly always infected vaginally. The symptoms however, can be mild and irritating or present as severely inflamed.

You have been infected with trichomoniasis if you have any of the following:

  • Pain during urination
  • Genital discharge
  • Genital itching or irritation
  • Strong odor emanating from the vagina
  • Pain and soreness during intercourse

Symptoms caused by fungi:

Jock itch

Jock itch is a fungi that does not always lead to an infection. Although common to male athletes, anyone can get jock itch. Symptoms include:

  • Red brown color
  • Itching and pain in infected area
  • Rash on thighs, buttocks, skin folds and groin
  • Blister-like bumps
Yeast infection (Candidiasis)

A yeast infection is most commonly found in women however men are at risk as well. If you have a yeast infection you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Itching or burning in genital region
  • Pain or burning during sex or urination
  • White discharge that is clumpy with a cottage cheese look

Symptoms caused by parasites:

Pubic lice

Public lice, more commonly known as ‘crabs’ is an insect that can be transmitted by sharing intimate items like bed linens and towels but most commonly is transmitted sexually. If you have pubic lice you have probably exhibited the following symptoms:

  • Genital itching
  • Noticeable nits or lice eggs in genital or pubic region
  • Lice bugs crawling through pubic hair or region and genitals

Scabies can appear through means other than intercourse, however intercourse is the most common form of transmission. When transmitted sexually, you will notice symptoms in, on or around the genital and anal region. Symptoms include:

  • Small red blisters or bumps
  • Crusts of blood around bumps
  • Itching or irritated skin

Sexually Transmitted Diseases Overview

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or infections (STIs) can be contracted by any and everyone who is sexually active. Whether you are single or in a committed relationship, gay or straight or bisexual, you can contract an STD. Regardless of the type of sex you engage in—oral, anal or vaginal—you may be at risk even if you use condoms every time you have sexual relations.

The increase in the spread of STDs can be attributed to the fact that only half of those who should receive STI screening, do so. Allowing STDs to remain untreated or go undetected not only increases the chances that you will spread the disease but it also increases your risk in contracting HIV or becoming infertile.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) Causes

The cause of all STDs is simple; you can contract an STD by having sexual relations with someone infected with one of nearly two dozen STDs. Although there is no foolproof way to be sexually active and avoid STDs, condoms can greatly reduce your risk of an infection.

When your genitals or mouth come into contact with the genitals or mouth of someone infected, your chances of contracted that STD are severely increased. Some STDs are more prevalent among one gender or the other, but men and women are equally susceptible to all forms of STDs and STIs.

When to Seek Medical Care

There are some sexually transmitted diseases that may not present with any of the known symptoms, which is why you should always use your best judgment about seeking treatment. Of course if you recognize one or more symptoms of a particular STD or STI you should immediately see your doctor and get tested. When symptoms persist in your genital or anal region for more than a week, get an STI screening just to be safe.

However if you don’t present with symptoms it can be difficult to know when medical care is needed.

If you’ve had unprotected sex or sex with someone you suspect may be infected, you should seek medical care immediately. If you have no reason to believe you may be infected, you should regularly undergo STD testing at least twice each year.

Exams and Tests

Testing for sexually transmitted diseases or infections may involve testing for one specific disease or a range of tests by fungi, parasite or virus. Currently there isn’t one singular test to scan for all infections or diseases.

Testing for STDs may include any one or more of the following methods:

  • Urine test
  • Blood test
  • Genital examination
  • Genital swabs

A physician is the best resource for STD testing because they can run diagnostic tests for diseases or infections that have yet to present with any symptoms. However there is also the matter of getting accurate test results, which requires you to get tested for the right STD. While there is a growing number of at-home STD test kits available for STDs such as gonorrhea or chlamydia, the results cannot be guaranteed.

Finally it is crucial that you get an STD screening at the right time. Some diseases take up to a month to present with symptoms and getting tested earlier than that may produce a false negative, causing you to spread the disease. This is why it is so important to get to your doctor immediately, because you can transmit certain illnesses before symptoms develop.

How Long Does It Take To Get STD Test Results?

The increase in technology and knowledge regarding sexually transmitted diseases means that waiting for test results no longer takes weeks. In fact most tests take less than 72 hours for results, but many are available sooner. This fact however, varies by laboratory and your physician’s access to fast results.

Whether you test yourself at home or go to a physician, you should have your test results in less than a week.


The ability and method to treat sexually transmitted diseases depends on the type of STD you’ve contracted. Bacterial diseases can most commonly be treated with antibiotics if they are caught early enough. A regimen of antibiotics is usually enough to treat STDs like gonorrhea or chlamydia or LGV. The earlier these STDs are caught, the more effective antibiotics will be.

Bacterial infections like syphilis are most often treated with penicillin, but early detection is the best way to prevent it from spreading to other organs within the body.

Viral STDs have no cure but symptoms and outbreaks can be managed effectively with medication. Several different medications may be required to treat different symptoms. HIV medications help keep the symptoms at a relatively healthy level to prevent AIDS.

There are drugs available for other STDs, including Hepatitis B. Of course you can get a hepatitis vaccine to avoid getting it but there are five different drugs approved to treat hepatitis. Due to the side effects of some of these drugs, you will have to discuss which one is right for you with your physician.

Finally some STDs will simply require a cream, powder or spray in order to minimize the discomfort and irritability caused by STDs such as genital warts, yeast infections, jock itch or pubic lice. Many of these will go away on their own but medication is used to minimize the STD symptoms.

Self-Care At Home

It is not recommended that you attempt to self-treat sexually transmitted diseases at home. Most often prescription drugs are required, which means at least one visit to the doctor maybe more.

Moreover self-care of STDs increases the risk of misdiagnosis which also increases the risk of you transmitting the disease to others.

Medical Treatment

The medical treatment your doctor chooses to treat your STD will depend on the type of STD you’ve contracted as well as how severe or mild the outbreak is. Once your diagnosis has been confirmed you will be required to apply creams or gels for topical treatments or antibiotics for bacterial treatments.

Some diseases or infections can only be treated, not cured, which means you will be under a long-term treatment plan to keep your symptoms at bay. Your doctor’s decision will depend on your ability to take medications as instructed, use protection and return for additional visits for follow-up exams and treatment plans.

STD Prevention

There are several ways in which you can prevent contracting sexually transmitted disease. Abstinence is the best method since refraining from sex altogether reduces your risk to zero. Barring sexual assault or abuse, this is the most effective way to prevent the spread of STDs or STIs.

Another effective way to prevent STDs is to be in a monogamous relationship. Getting tested together before sexual relations and only having sex with each other will reduce your risk of nearly all STDs.

Using latex condoms during sex can help you prevent—but not altogether—contracting STDs. While highly effective for preventing pregnancy, they are not as effective for preventing the spread of STDs. Proper and regular usage of condoms can reduce STD contraction.

The best way to prevent spreading STDs is to know and recognize the symptoms so you can immediately get tested and treated. Regular checkups and tests can help you avoid spreading STDs by keeping you updated on your own STD status.

Certain forms of STDs, like hepatitis B, can be prevented by getting a simple vaccine. Although there has been much controversy, it is widely accepted that the HPV vaccine does help prevent the human papillomavirus. By getting vaccinated prior to contracting an STD, you can greatly reduce your risk of these STDs.

Is It Possible To Be Sexually Active And Still Be STD Free?

Yes. Having protected sex with a partner who is free of sexually transmitted diseases and infections can help you remain without STDs. Although sexually active people are always at risk for STDs, how you approach sex can reduce or eliminate your risk.

If you choose your sexual partners carefully and make sure you both have been tested before engaging in sexual relations, you can remain STD free.

How Do You Know If You Have An STD?

If you are sexually active you might have an STD since the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are 19 million new STIs per year. This is particularly true if you engage in casual sex with multiple partners because you can’t always be aware of their STD status.

The best way to know if you have an STD is to check for symptoms and get tested when you notice them. Even if the symptoms turn out to be nothing, it is better to get tested and know for certain.

In some instances you simply won’t be able to tell until you have undergone STI screening. Many STD present without symptoms or have symptoms very similar to non-STDs such as bladder infections or allergic reactions.

Written By Sarah Connolly

Dr Sarah Connolly studied pathology at the University of Cambridge, in the UK, and has travelled within the USA and Europe lecturing widely on the subject. Her thesis on Chlamydia and its associated conditions offered ground-breaking research results and it is still used in teaching today. Specialising in STD’s in young people, Dr Connolly has built up a wealth of expertise and has worked hard to break down the taboo barrier between STD’s and treatment.


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