Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are common, and many of those with a condition don’t know they have it. One of the reasons someone might not know is that many conditions don’t have any symptoms.
You can be living with an STI for years without knowing it. Even when STIs don’t have obvious symptoms, they can still be damaging. Untreated, asymptomatic STIs can:
STIs catch many people off guard. However, it’s important to protect your sexual health. Be aware of any physical changes, no matter how minor they may seem. Seek medical help to understand them.
Talk with your doctor if you’re experiencing any symptoms of an STI.
They can treat your condition or provide you with medications to decrease the symptoms or problems you may have. They can also counsel you on how to reduce your risk for acquiring an STI in the future.
STI symptoms can range from mild to severe. Some of the most common symptoms of STDs include the following:
Changes in urination
Burning or pain during urination can be a symptom of several conditions.
STIs that can cause burning or pain during urination include:
Talk with your doctor if you notice any changes in urination. You should also note the color of your urine to check for the presence of blood.
Unusual discharge from the penis
Discharge from the penis is usually a symptom of an STI or another type of infection or condition. It’s important to report this symptom to your doctor as soon as possible for diagnosis.
STIs that can cause discharge include:
These diagnoses are treatable with antibiotics. However, it’s important to take your medication exactly as prescribed.
You should see your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve or if they come back.
You may have acquired the STI again by contact with your partner, particularly if they weren’t treated at the same time as you were. You may also need a different antibiotic or treatment.
Abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding
If you have changes in your vaginal discharge, talk with your doctor. Some vaginal discharge is normal throughout the menstrual cycle. However, it shouldn’t be strangely colored or smell bad.
These can be symptoms of an STI. For example, discharge that occurs due to trichomoniasis is often green, frothy, and foul smelling. Gonorrhea discharge may be yellow and tinged with blood.
If you have bleeding between periods combined with discharge, make an appointment with your doctor. These symptoms can also be a sign of cancer.
Burning or itching in the vaginal area
STIs aren’t always the cause of burning or itching in the vaginal area. A non-STI bacterial or yeast infection can also cause vaginal burning or itching.
However, you should talk with your doctor about any sensation changes in your vaginal area. Bacterial vaginosis and pubic lice can cause itching, and they require treatment.
Pain during sex
Occasional pain during sex is fairly common among women. Because of this, it can be one of the most overlooked symptoms of an STI. If you experience pain during sex, you should discuss it with your doctor.
This is particularly true if the pain:
- is new
- has changed
- started with a new sexual partner
- began after a change in sexual habits
Pain during ejaculation can also be an STI symptom in men.
Bumps or sores
Bumps and sores may be the first noticeable signs of STIs including:
If you have strange bumps or sores on or near your mouth or genitals, talk with your doctor. You should mention these sores to your doctor even if they go away before your visit.
Herpes sores, for example, typically go away within a week or so. However, they can still be contagious even when no sores are present.
Just because a sore has healed doesn’t mean the condition has gone away. A condition like herpes is lifelong. Once you acquire it, the virus is present in your body at all times.
Pain in the pelvic or abdominal region
Pelvic pain can be a sign of a number of conditions. If the pain is unusual or intense, discuss it with your doctor.
Many causes of pelvic pain aren’t related to STIs. However, one cause of severe pelvic pain in women is pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which occurs when asymptomatic STIs have gone untreated.
Bacteria ascend into the uterus and abdomen. There, inflammation and scarring can occur. This can be extremely painful and, in rare cases, fatal. PID is one of the leading causes of preventable infertility in women.
Just like other conditions, STIs can cause many nonspecific symptoms, which are symptoms that can be caused by a number of illnesses.
Nonspecific symptoms that can occur due to STIs and related conditions include:
- weight loss
On their own, these symptoms may not cause your doctor to suspect you have an STI. If you think you’re at risk for an STI, tell your doctor.
Although anyone can contract an STI, data shows that young people and men who have sex with other men (MSM) are at greatest risk.
Rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea are highest among young people ages 15 to 24 years, while
Some STIs are curable, while others aren’t. Talk with your doctor about treatments as well as preventive measures to help lower your risk for transmission.
Doctors can treat certain STIs. Examples include the following:
- Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics.
- Gonorrhea can be cured with antibiotics. However, some drug-resistant strains of the bacteria have emerged that don’t respond to traditional treatments and may be more difficult to cure.
- Syphilis can be cured with antibiotics. The medication your doctors choose depends on the stage of syphilis.
- Doctors can prescribe the antibiotic medications metronidazole or tinidazole to treat trichomoniasis.
Some conditions aren’t curable, but treatments can help reduce their symptoms. Herpes and HPV are two STIs in this category.
For herpes, doctors will prescribe medications to shorten an outbreak. These are known as antivirals. Some people take these medications on a daily basis to help reduce the likelihood of an outbreak.
Doctors don’t have specific treatments for genital warts caused by HPV. However, they may prescribe topical medications or perform procedures to help shrink or remove the lesions.
The FDA approved an HPV vaccine to help prevent transmission of some high-risk HPV strains in children and young adults. The FDA
Even if you’ve been treated and no longer have an STI, you can contract the STI again.
Doctors need to perform tests to help figure out if you have an STI, another contagious disease, or a different condition altogether.
It’s important to visit your doctor as soon as you have symptoms. Early diagnosis means you can get treatment earlier and decrease your risk for complications.
Another reason to visit your doctor as soon as you have symptoms is that it’s easier to diagnose many STIs when symptoms are present. Symptoms can sometimes go away, but that doesn’t mean the STI has been cured.
Doctors can also determine if a person would benefit from preventive treatments for HIV such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) which, when taken consistently, can help lower the risk of contracting HIV.
Screening isn’t a part of a standard health exam. It’s important that you ask for testing and get your results. That way, you can know for sure whether you have an STI.
And if necessary, your doctor can create a treatment plan that you can start right away.