How Do You Know If You Have an STD?
Sexually transmitted diseases are some of the most common diseases you can contract. Studies suggest that more than half of all people will get a sexually transmitted disease or infection at some point in their lives.
While STDs and STIs sound scary and can be incredibly uncomfortable, they can all generally be treated. But how do you know if you have an STD in the first place, and what should you do when you find out? Keep reading to find out!
What is an STD?
Sexually transmitted diseases are infections that can be passed from one person to another via sex (oral, vaginal, or anal). While some can be transmitted through genital skin-to-skin contact, many are spread through certain bodily fluids, including blood, vaginal fluids, or semen
All STDs require treatment, though not all STD’s are curable.
The Symptoms of STDs
Noticeable symptoms and problems with your health are often the first sign that something may be wrong. However, this can be tricky as some infections present no symptoms. STD symptoms in men and women also differ based on the specific disease.
Some common symptoms of STDs in women and men and men include:
- Sores or bumps on the genitals or in the oral or rectal area
- Painful or burning urination
- Discharge from the penis
- Unusual or odd-smelling vaginal discharge
- Unusual vaginal bleeding
- Pain during sex
- Sore, swollen lymph nodes, particularly in the groin but sometimes more widespread
- Lower abdominal pain
- Rash over the trunk, hands or feet
Any combination of these symptoms may point to a potential sexually transmitted infection.
Identifying the specific symptoms associated with certain sexually transmitted diseases may help you figure out if you have an infection in the first place. However, below are some common STDs you should look out for;
One of the most common STDs, chlamydia is a bacterial infection and it can be especially sneaky because it often presents no symptoms. That’s why it is such a common infection.
Most people don’t even know they have chlamydia until it gets serious. Symptoms of chlamydia may not show up until several weeks after your initial exposure to the bacteria, but they may include:
- Painful urination
- Vaginal discharge in women
- Discharge from the penis in men
- Painful sexual intercourse in women
- Bleeding between periods and after sex in women
- Testicular pain in men
Another common STD, gonorrhoea is a bacterial infection. Similar to chlamydia, it may present no obvious symptoms, so most people do not even know that they may have a gonorrhoea infection.
Most women do not experience any symptoms. In men, some common symptoms of gonorrhoea may include:
- A burning sensation when urinating;
- A white, yellow, or green discharge from the penis;
- Painful or swollen testicles (although this is less common).
Herpes is caused by two viruses, herpes simplex virus type 1 and herpes simplex virus type 2. Both of these viruses can stay in your body for the rest of your life.
Most people with herpes may not have any symptoms, but one of the most common symptoms is sores and blisters on the genitals and anus and around the mouth.
This may also be accompanied with burning, itching, and pain around the genitals. Herpes caused by herpes simplex virus type 2 may also include flu-like symptoms (fever, headache, chills, aches).
Hepatitis B is a type of liver infection caused by a virus. If left untreated, hepatitis B can cause liver disease. About half of adults who have a hepatitis B infection never get any symptoms, while some symptoms can feel like the flu, cold, or other common illness.
This makes it easy for you to not even know you have hepatitis B. When symptoms do show up, they often don’t happen until 6 weeks to 6 months after the initial exposure, making it even harder to truly pin down. If you think you have hepatitis B, keep an eye out for:
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weakness and fatigue
- Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
There are over 100 known types of human papillomavirus, and about 40 of those can infect your genital area. Nearly everyone who is sexually active will get HPV at some point in their lives.
Most types of HPV are harmless, presenting no symptoms. However, some types can cause genital warts (low-risk HPV) or even cancer (high-risk HPV). High-risk HPV generally will not show any signs of infection until it has already caused serious health issues. This is why it is extremely important to tested regularly for STD’s such as HPV.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection. If left untreated, syphilis can cause permanent damage to your nervous system. The symptoms can be mild and hard to notice at first. Some people confuse the initial symptoms of syphilis with pimples or rashes. The disease happens in stages.
The most prominent symptom of the first stage is a sore called a chancre that appears where the syphilis bacteria entered your system. These sores can appear anywhere on your genitals or anus and rarely around your mouth.
In the second stage, you may develop rashes on your palms and the bottoms of your feet. This may be accompanied by mild flu-like symptoms. From there, the infection may become latent for several months, but you still require treatment.
HIV can damage the immune system and raise the risk of contracting other viruses or bacteria and certain cancers. If left untreated, it can lead to stage 3 HIV, known as AIDS. But with today’s treatment, many people living with HIV don’t ever develop AIDS.
In the early or acute stages, it’s easy to mistake the symptoms of HIV with those of the flu. For example, the early symptoms can include:
- Aches and pains
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Sore throat
These initial symptoms typically clear within a month or so. From that point onward, a person can carry HIV without developing serious or persistent symptoms for many years. Other people may develop nonspecific symptoms, such as:
- Recurrent fatigue
- Stomach issues
There’s no cure for HIV yet, but treatment options are available to manage it. Early and effective treatment can help people with HIV live as long as those without HIV.
Getting Tested for STDs
As you can see, identifying sexually transmitted diseases based on symptoms alone can be difficult considering that you may not experience symptoms or mistake your symptoms for other common diseases.
The only way to truly find out if you have a sexually transmitted disease or infection is to get tested.
STD testing can seem daunting or intimidating, but it’s quick, painless, and usually free. Ask your doctor outright for STD tests. Be honest and open with your doctor about your sex life to ensure that you get the right STD tests.
Some things you should tell your doctor to figure out your tests include:
- The types of protection you use during oral, vaginal, and anal sex
- Any medications you’re taking
- Any known or suspected exposures you’ve had to STDs
- Whether you or your partner have other sexual partners
What to Do If You Have an STD?
You get your test results back, and they come out positive. The first thing you need to do is stay calm. Having an STD isn’t great, and you may feel embarrassed, mad, or upset. Take a second to breathe. Remember that you’ll be okay and you definitely aren’t alone.
From there, follow your doctor’s orders. You may require follow-up testing, or you might go straight into treatment. Most STDs can easily be treated and cured with medication, so you can finish your course of antibiotics or other prescribed medication and continue with your life.
For STDs that can’t be cured, your doctor can prescribe medication that treats your symptoms and prevents you from transmitting your STDs to your sexual partners, allowing you to live a completely normal life.
If you are in any doubt about your sexual health status, get tested today before things get worse and do permanent damage to your body. Remember that doctors have probably seen it all, so don’t be embarrassed.
The testing process itself differs based on each STD, but most are easy and pain-free. STD testing includes:
- A physical exam
- A urine test
- A blood test
- A cheek swab
- Sore tests
- Discharge tests
Sometimes, your doctor can immediately determine if you have a sexually transmitted disease, but most tests take anywhere from a few days or a few weeks to get results back from the lab.
Some clinics also offer rapid testing for HIV, which allows you to get definitive results in just 20 minutes.