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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.
5. Sore throat

Not all STDs give you symptoms “down there.” If you engage in oral sex, a sore throat may indicate herpes or gonorrhea, Kelly-Weeder says. The best way to prevent this is to use a condom or dental dam during oral sex. If your sore throat really is an STD, it will often be accompanied by cold sores, fever, swollen glands and oral lesions, so don’t panic every time you come down with a cold.

6. Joint pain

Herpes, hepatitis B and HIV can all cause joint pain and muscle aches. Like many of the aforementioned symptoms, however, there are many explanations for joint pain that do not involve sexual contact at all so you’re best bet is to talk to your doctor if you’re concerned.

Now what?

You should definitely see a doctor—either your regular health care provider or schedule an appointment at your university’s health center—as soon as possible, but there are things you can do in the meantime if you suspect an STD. “If the symptoms look like a yeast infection (intense vaginal itching, vulvar and vaginal swelling, thick, white, mostly odorless discharge that looks a little like cottage cheese) [you] could try an over the counter yeast treatment like Monistat. If [you] do not get relief from [your] symptoms in a few days [you] need to be seen by a health care provider,” says Kelly-Weeder. Kelly-Weeder also recommends cool compresses or baths in mild tepid water to see if symptoms are relieved or reduced. “The most significant symptoms are those associated with abdominal pain, fever or chills. This may indicate that an STD has developed into pelvic inflammatory disease and has spread through the pelvic region. These women need to be seen immediately and should go to an emergency room if they cannot be seen elsewhere,” she says.

Finally, Kelly-Weeder believes that best treatment for STDs is simply preventative care. “Absolutely all sexually active young women should receive the HPV vaccine to protect them against cervical cancer. Hepatitis B can be sexually transmitted and most young adults have been vaccinated against this in childhood so this should not be a problem any longer. Women should remember that the best protection against STDs is to use a condom with every sexual experience. Birth control pills only protect against pregnancy, not STDs!” she says.

Moral of the story? If you’re sexually active, see a gynecologist periodically. If you suspect you may have an STD, schedule an appointment with a doctor as soon as you can so that if you do have an infection, you can take care of it right away.

Katie was the former Senior Associate Editor of Her Campus. She graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2015, where she studied Writing Seminars, psychology, and women's studies. Prior to joining the full-time staff, Katie was a national contributing writer and Health Editor for HC. In addition to her work with Her Campus, Katie interned at Cleveland Magazine, EMILY's List, and the National Partnership for Women & Families. Katie is also an alumna of Kappa Alpha Theta. In her spare time, Katie enjoys writing poetry, hanging out with cats, eating vegan cupcakes, and advocating for women's rights.