Not all sexually transmitted diseases are obvious. While some STDs leave distinct, visible signs of an infection that you can’t miss, there are several subtler, everyday symptoms that may be an indication of an STD. But don’t freak out! If you’re sexually active and have one or more of the following symptoms, keep an eye on them and see a doctor. While many other conditions that are not STDs can create these symptoms, it never hurts to be extra safe and check with a medical professional.
Susan Kelly-Weeder, a certified nurse practitioner and associate professor at Boston College’s School of Nursing, says that the only way to truly be safe from STDs is to abstain from sex or use proper protection. But here’s the tricky part—you may have an STD and not even know because it isn’t always obvious. “The most important thing to remember here is that there are STDs that have very serious side effects for women that are almost completely asymptomatic,” Kelly-Weeder says. But, if you do suspect an infection, there are often treatments available. Read on for the less obvious symptoms that could indicate a sexually transmitted disease or infection.
1. Lower abdominal pain
If you’re sexually active and have a stomachache, it might not just be something you ate. If you have unexplained, persisting abdominal pain in the same spot you would have menstrual cramps, see a doctor. Several STDs, such as hepatitis and chlamydia, present themselves in the form of abdominal pain. If your stomach pain is higher up on your abdomen or if you have a history of stomach pain (like if you have irritable bowel syndrome), it’s probably not the result of an STD.
2. Painful sex
Sex can sometimes be painful for a variety of different reasons (check out this HC article to find out why) but if you’ve been sexually active in the past, and sex suddenly hurts, stings, or burns, this could be an indication of an infection. Chlamydia, HPV and trichomoniasis (a vaginal infection) can all make intercourse painful. The only way you can properly figure out the cause is to see your doctor.
3. Any major change in vaginal discharge
“Symptoms of an STD include new vaginal discharge or a significant change in current vaginal discharge,” says Kelly-Weeder. A change in the color, smell, quantity or consistency in vaginal discharge is a surefire sign that something’s wrong. Most commonly, it could be a yeast infection, which CAN be spread sexually, but is easily treatable. However, if you’re sexually active, it could be something more serious. Chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis typically present as a change in discharge. Concerned? If you’ve never had vaginal intercourse, assume it’s a yeast infection and see your doctor. If you frequently have intercourse and experience a sudden shift from your normal discharge, definitely make an appointment with your gynecologist.
4. Flu-like symptoms
“HIV infection usually presents with flu-like symptoms which people may not think of as related to an STD,” Kelly-Weeder says. These symptoms include fever, headaches and fatigue and can occur within several days or weeks of infection—or you may not experience these symptoms for years until the virus impairs your immune system. HIV is very serious, so if you’ve had unprotected sex and are experiencing these symptoms, don’t just brush it off as feeling under the weather. Make a trip to the doctor or gynecologist to make sure you’re in the clear and remember that practicing safe sex and getting annual gynecological check-ups can help protect you from HIV.