If you are a sexually active woman, chances are you’ve had to at least think about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) at one point or another. This is especially the case if you have noticed some physical changes in your vaginal area after having sex with your partner—or a new partner for the first time. But how do you know if you have an STD? What are the signs? And what are you supposed to do once you test positive for an STD?
First things first—don’t worry. Your STD can be treated, and in many cases, even healed. Keep reading to learn more about the signs and symptoms of STDs and the next steps you should take if your gynecologist confirms you have contracted one.
What is an STD?
A sexually transmitted disease is most often contracted through direct sexual contact. The bacteria and viruses that cause these various diseases can pass from person to person through blood, semen, and bodily fluids. However, sexual contact is not the only way a person can acquire an STD. If a woman has an STD and gives birth, she can pass the disease to her child during childbirth. People can also get STDs through blood transfusions or shared needles, such as occurs with recreational drug use.
8 Signs You May Have an STD
1. Pain when urinating
One of the most common signs of an STD involves pain when you pee. This could feel like a sharp pain, stinging, or burning sensation when you urinate. However, pain when urinating can be caused by other types of gynecological conditions such as a yeast infection, UTI, or another type of bacterial vaginal infection. If you experience pain or discomfort in any way when you pee, be sure to visit your gynecologist for an exam so you can be properly diagnosed and treated.
2. An itchy vagina
Another very common sign of an STD is vaginal itching. Occasional itching in the vagina is normal, but if you begin to experience persistent and unbearable itching, you might have an STD. Because this symptom can also be caused by various other gynecological conditions, you will need to visit your doctor for an official diagnosis to be sure.
3. Discomfort during sex
Sex should never be uncomfortable. It is meant to be enjoyed, so if you ever experience pain or burning in your vagina during sex, you should make an appointment with your gynecologist for an STD test. Several types of sexually transmitted diseases can produce this symptom, including herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and syphilis, so don’t delay in making an appointment with your doctor.
4. Vaginal discharge that stinks or froths
Several STDs cause vaginal discharge that stinks or appears frothy such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, or bacterial vaginosis. The smell could mimic that of a fish or could appear green in color or even another color you haven’t seen in your discharge before. If you notice these types of changes in your vaginal discharge, get checked right away.
5. Enlarged lymph nodes and glands
Lymph nodes are key indicators of general infection or injury within the body, but sometimes enlargement of the lymph nodes or glands can indicate STDs such as syphilis, herpes, LGV, or trichomoniasis. If you experience this symptom in conjunction with other symptoms on this list, be sure to talk to your doctor about the possibility of STDs.
6. Lesions on the vagina
White bumps, ulcers, or bumps that are filled with fluid are serious signs of an STD. Any time you notice new or irregular bumps or lesions on your vagina, you should make an appointment with your gynecologist, so you can be treated properly. These lesions can indicate genital warts, syphilis, herpes, or HPV.
STDs like herpes, syphilis, and HIV can cause rashes of various sorts on the vagina and throughout the body as a whole. These vaginal rashes can itch and appear in the form of bumps, warts, or open sores. Oftentimes, rashes associated with STDs will begin as small red bumps and will gradually increase in size and discomfort as they enlarge, blister, or burst. Rashes associated with syphilis specifically can even appear in other areas of your body. They will appear as red, large sores and can even show up on your hands and feet. If you have this symptom and think you may have come in contact with an STD, be sure to call your gynecologist immediately.
8. Abdominal pain
STDs can also cause women to experience severe pain in their abdominal area that feels like severe menstrual cramps. Gonorrhea, LGV, and trichomoniasis are just some of the STDs that can cause this symptom, and it is often an indicator that pelvic inflammatory disease is present. It is vital to have pain like this examined and diagnosed by a medical professional. If you do not and you let it go untreated, it could lead to more severe problems such as infertility or death.
While STDs are common, not everyone becomes symptomatic when they contract one. In fact, some women can have an STD and not even know. Because of this, many OBGYNs like Dr. Evans recommend women be tested regularly for STDs if they are sexually active—whether with one or multiple partners—or when they become sexually active with a new partner.
What to do When You Are Diagnosed with an STD
First, it is important to understand that STDs need medical intervention. It is very unlikely that they will go away on their own. Additionally, if you put off treatment, you risk further health complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, tubal or ectopic pregnancy, cervical cancer, and perinatal or congenital infections in newborns. You also risk spreading the infection to others.
Once you have been diagnosed with an STD, be sure to:
- Get treated – Your treatment will vary depending on the type of STD you are diagnosed with (bacterial, parasitic, or viral), so be sure to follow through with your treatment as prescribed by your doctor. Bacterial and parasitic STDs can usually be cured with a course of antibiotics, and viral STDs can be effectively managed.
- Tell your partner or partners – You need to be open and honest with your sex partner or partners in order to protect the continuous spread of the disease. Be sure you tell them as soon as you learn of your diagnosis. If you prefer, you can even ask your local health department to contact your sex partners for you.
- Rethink the stigma of STDs – Remember that having an STD shouldn’t bring you shame, and it doesn’t mean you are dirty. It merely means you had sex, and there’s nothing wrong with sex.
- Know that most STDs can be managed or even cured – while most STDs can be cured, some can only be managed. Viral STDs such as herpes, HPV, and HIV can be managed with the appropriate course of treatment.
- Get retested – Once you have finished your course of treatment, be sure to get retested to be sure you are free of the disease. Also, make sure you get retested regularly if you remain sexually active. If you have been diagnosed with a virus that cannot be cured, be sure to take the recommended steps and preventative measures to help control your infection, limit your symptoms, and maximize your personal health and wellbeing.
There is Hope
Remember, getting diagnosed with an STD does not mean your life will be forever changed or that it will be negatively impacted forevermore. Don’t let the shame or stigma of your STD define you or cause you embarrassment. Don’t let the fear of infertility, cancer, or losing your partner prevent you from taking the responsible steps in your journey, either. You can be treated and return to your normal life! You can go on dates, you can still have sex, and you can enjoy your life to the fullest and be healthy!
Call Your Local Gynecologist if You Suspect You Have an STD
If you believe you have been exposed to an STD, or if you are experiencing one or more of the symptoms we listed above, call your local gynecologist today and schedule an appointment as soon as possible. Fast action is the best way to handle STDs properly.
If you are in the Houston area, consider reaching out to OBGYN Dr. Evans at Sugar Land Medical Spa. She is a specialist in women’s healthcare, sexual health, and aesthetic treatments and is a board-certified OB/GYN with next to 20 years of experience helping women just like you get back to their normal lives by treating STDs.
Dr. Evans believes that how patients receive treatment matters as much as the procedures they have. This is especially true for sexual health and STDs. Skill, experience, trust, and personal attention guide every patient relationship, and her commitment to these qualities is one of the reasons why her patients continually refer others to her care.
You can reach a member of her friendly staff today by calling (281) 277-7721.