Your doctor usually can diagnose genital herpes based on a physical exam and the results of certain laboratory tests:
- Viral culture. This test involves taking a tissue sample or scraping of the sores for examination in the laboratory.
- Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. PCR is used to copy your DNA from a sample of your blood, tissue from a sore or spinal fluid. The DNA can then be tested to establish the presence of HSV and determine which type of HSV you have.
- Blood test. This test analyzes a sample of your blood for the presence of HSV antibodies to detect a past herpes infection.
There's no cure for genital herpes. Treatment with prescription antiviral medications may:
- Help sores heal sooner during an initial outbreak
- Lessen the severity and duration of symptoms in recurrent outbreaks
- Reduce the frequency of recurrence
- Minimize the chance of transmitting the herpes virus to another
Antiviral medications used for genital herpes include:
- Acyclovir (Zovirax)
- Valacyclovir (Valtrex)
Your doctor may recommend that you take the medicine only when you have symptoms of an outbreak or that you take a certain medication daily, even when you have no signs of an outbreak. These medications are usually well-tolerated, with few side effects.
Coping and support
Finding out that you have genital herpes can cause embarrassment, shame and anger, among other emotions. You may be suspicious or resentful of your partner if you think he or she "gave" you the infection. Or you might fear rejection by your current partner or future partners.
What you're feeling is normal. Here are healthy ways to cope with having genital herpes:
- Communicate with your partner. Be open and honest about your feelings. Trust your partner and believe what he or she tells you. Don't assign blame. Genital herpes can lie dormant in your body for years, so it's often difficult to determine when you became infected.
- Educate yourself. Talk with your doctor or a counselor to learn how to live with the condition and minimize your chances of infecting others. Learn about your treatment options and how to manage outbreaks.
- Join a support group. Look for a group in your area or online so that you can talk about your feelings and learn from others' experiences.
Preparing for your appointment
If you think you have genital herpes or other sexually transmitted infection, make an appointment to see your primary care doctor or gynecologist.
What you can do
Before your appointment, you might want to list answers to the following questions:
- What are your symptoms? When did they start?
- Do you have a new sexual partner or multiple partners?
- Have you ever been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection?
- Do you regularly use condoms?
- What medications or supplements do you take regularly?
Some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What tests do I need?
- Should I be tested for other sexually transmitted infections?
- Should my partner be tested?
- Do I need to abstain from sexual activity during treatment?
- How can I avoid infecting my partner?
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:
- Do you have pelvic pain?
- Do you have pain while urinating?
- Do you have sores or unusual discharge?
Oct. 13, 2020
- Genital herpes: CDC detailed fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes-detailed.htm. Accessed Jan. 19, 2017.
- Klausner JD, et al., eds. Genital herpes. In: Current Diagnosis & Treatment of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2007. http://accessmedicine.com. Accessed Jan. 18, 2017.
- Albrecht MA. Epidemiology, clinical manifestations and diagnosis of genital herpes simplex virus infection. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Jan. 18, 2017.
- Longo DL, et al., eds. Herpes simplex virus infections. In: Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 19th ed. New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill Education; 2015. http://accessmedicine.com. Accessed Jan. 18, 2017.
- Frequently asked questions. Gynecologic problems FAQ054. Genital herpes. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Genital-Herpes. Accessed Jan. 19, 2017.
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