Learn about common and possible STD symptoms and how serious they might be. By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you have sex, you may also have an STD, with subtle or noticeable STD symptoms. Straight or gay, married or single, you're vulnerable to STDs and STD symptoms, whether you engage in oral, anal or vaginal sex.

Although condoms are highly effective for reducing transmission of STDs, keep in mind that no method is foolproof.

STD symptoms aren't always obvious. If you think you have STD symptoms or have been exposed to an STD, see a doctor. Some STDs can be treated easily and eliminated, but others require more involved, long-term treatment.

Either way, it's essential to be evaluated, and — if diagnosed with an STD, also known as a sexually transmitted infection (STI) — get treated. It's also essential to inform any partners so that they can be evaluated and treated. If untreated, STDs can increase your risk of acquiring another STD such as HIV. This happens because an STD can stimulate an immune response in the genital area or cause sores, either of which might make HIV transmission more likely. Some untreated STDs can also lead to infertility.

You could have an STI and be asymptomatic — without any signs or symptoms. In fact, this happens with a lot of STIs. Even though you have no symptoms, you're still at risk of passing the infection along to your sex partners. That's why it's important to use protection, such as a condom, during sex. And visit your doctor on a regular basis for STI screening, so you can identify a potential infection and get treated for it before passing it along to someone else.

Some of the following diseases, such as hepatitis, can be transmitted without sexual contact. Others, such as gonorrhea, can only be transmitted through sexual contact.

Chlamydia is a bacterial infection of your genital tract. Chlamydia may be difficult for you to detect because early-stage infections often cause few or no signs and symptoms. When they do occur, they usually start one to three weeks after you've been exposed to chlamydia. Even when signs and symptoms do occur, they're often mild and passing, making them easy to overlook.

Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Painful urination
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Vaginal discharge in women
  • Discharge from the penis in men
  • Pain during sexual intercourse in women
  • Testicular pain in men

Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection of your genital tract. The first gonorrhea symptoms generally appear within two to 10 days after exposure. However, some people may be infected for months before signs or symptoms occur. Signs and symptoms of gonorrhea may include:

  • Thick, cloudy or bloody discharge from the penis or vagina
  • Pain or burning sensation when urinating
  • Abnormal menstrual bleeding
  • Painful, swollen testicles
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Anal itching

Trichomoniasis is a common STI caused by a microscopic, one-celled parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. This organism spreads during sexual intercourse with someone who already has the infection. The organism usually infects the urinary tract in men, but often causes no symptoms in men. Trichomoniasis typically infects the vagina in women. When trichomoniasis causes symptoms, they may range from mild irritation to severe inflammation. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Clear, white, greenish or yellowish vaginal discharge
  • Discharge from the penis
  • Strong vaginal odor
  • Vaginal itching or irritation
  • Itching or irritation inside the penis
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Painful urination

HIV is an infection with the human immunodeficiency virus. HIV interferes with your body's ability to effectively fight off viruses, bacteria and fungi that cause disease, and it can lead to AIDS, a chronic, life-threatening disease.

When first infected with HIV, you may have no symptoms at all. Some people develop a flu-like illness, usually two to six weeks after being infected.

Early signs and symptoms
Early HIV signs and symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Rash
  • Fatigue

These early signs and symptoms usually disappear within a week to a month and are often mistaken for those of another viral infection. During this period, you are very infectious. More-persistent or -severe symptoms of HIV infection may not appear for 10 years or more after the initial infection.

As the virus continues to multiply and destroy immune cells, you may develop mild infections or chronic signs and symptoms such as:

  • Swollen lymph nodes — often one of the first signs of HIV infection
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Cough and shortness of breath

Later stage HIV infection
Signs and symptoms of later stage HIV infection include:

  • Persistent, unexplained fatigue
  • Soaking night sweats
  • Shaking chills or fever higher than 100.4 F (38 C) for several weeks
  • Swelling of lymph nodes for more than three months
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Persistent headaches
  • Unusual, opportunistic infections

Genital herpes is highly contagious and caused by a type of the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV enters your body through small breaks in your skin or mucous membranes. Most people with HSV never know they have it, because they have no signs or symptoms. The signs and symptoms of HSV can be so mild they go unnoticed. When signs and symptoms are noticeable, the first episode is generally the worst. Some people never experience a second episode. Other people, however, can experience recurrent episodes over a period of decades.

When present, genital herpes signs and symptoms may include:

  • Small, red bumps, blisters (vesicles) or open sores (ulcers) in the genital, anal and nearby areas
  • Pain or itching around the genital area, buttocks and inner thighs

The initial symptom of genital herpes usually is pain or itching, beginning within a few weeks after exposure to an infected sexual partner. After several days, small, red bumps may appear. They then rupture, becoming ulcers that ooze or bleed. Eventually, scabs form and the ulcers heal.

In women, sores can erupt in the vaginal area, external genitals, buttocks, anus or cervix. In men, sores can appear on the penis, scrotum, buttocks, anus or thighs, or inside the urethra, the tube from the bladder through the penis.

While you have ulcers, it may be painful to urinate. You may also experience pain and tenderness in your genital area until the infection clears. During an initial episode, you may have flu-like signs and symptoms, such as headache, muscle aches and fever, as well as swollen lymph nodes in your groin.

In some cases, the infection can be active and contagious even when sores aren't present.

Genital warts, caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), are one of the most common types of STDs. The signs and symptoms of genital warts include:

  • Small, flesh-colored or gray swellings in your genital area
  • Several warts close together that take on a cauliflower shape
  • Itching or discomfort in your genital area
  • Bleeding with intercourse

Often, however, genital warts cause no symptoms. Genital warts may be as small as 1 millimeter in diameter or may multiply into large clusters.

In women, genital warts can grow on the vulva, the walls of the vagina, the area between the external genitals and the anus, and the cervix. In men, they may occur on the tip or shaft of the penis, the scrotum, or the anus. Genital warts can also develop in the mouth or throat of a person who has had oral sex with an infected person.

Hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C are all contagious viral infections that affect your liver. Hepatitis B and C are the most serious of the three, but each can cause your liver to become inflamed.

Some people never develop signs or symptoms. But for those who do, signs and symptoms may occur after several weeks and may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort, especially in the area of your liver on your right side beneath your lower ribs
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Dark urine
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Itching
  • Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)

Syphilis is a bacterial infection. The disease affects your genitals, skin and mucous membranes, but it may also involve many other parts of your body, including your brain and your heart.

The signs and symptoms of syphilis may occur in four stages — primary, secondary, latent and tertiary. There's also a condition known as congenital syphilis, which occurs when a pregnant woman with syphilis passes the disease to her unborn infant. Congenital syphilis can be disabling, even life-threatening, so it's important for a pregnant woman with syphilis to be treated.

Primary
These signs may occur from 10 days to three months after exposure:

  • A small, painless sore (chancre) on the part of your body where the infection was transmitted, usually your genitals, rectum, tongue or lips. A single chancre is typical, but there may be multiple sores.
  • Enlarged lymph nodes.

Signs and symptoms of primary syphilis typically disappear without treatment, but the underlying disease remains and may reappear in the second (secondary) or third (tertiary) stage.

Secondary
Signs and symptoms of secondary syphilis may begin two to 10 weeks after the chancre appears, and may include:

  • Rash marked by red or reddish-brown, penny-sized sores over any area of your body, including your palms and soles
  • Fever
  • Fatigue and a vague feeling of discomfort
  • Soreness and aching

These signs and symptoms may disappear within a few weeks or repeatedly come and go for as long as a year.

Latent
In some people, a period called latent syphilis — in which no symptoms are present — may follow the secondary stage. Signs and symptoms may never return, or the disease may progress to the tertiary stage.

Tertiary
Without treatment, syphilis bacteria may spread, leading to serious internal organ damage and death years after the original infection.

Some of the signs and symptoms of tertiary syphilis include:

  • Neurological problems. These may include stroke and infection and inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). Other problems may include poor muscle coordination, numbness, paralysis, deafness or visual problems. Personality changes and dementia also are possible.
  • Cardiovascular problems. These may include bulging (aneurysm) and inflammation of the aorta — your body's major artery — and of other blood vessels. Syphilis may also cause valvular heart disease, such as aortic valve problems.

If you suspect you have these or other STIs or that you may have been exposed to one, see your doctor for STI testing. Timely diagnosis and treatment are important to avoid or delay more-severe, potentially life-threatening health problems and to avoid infecting others.

May 01, 2012