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Signs and Symptoms of STDs

By Jill Grimes, M.D., FAAFP ; Updated August 14, 2017

Perhaps the most important fact to know about sexually transmitted infections (also known as sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs) is that the vast majority of the time these infections are silent. They literally cause no symptoms at all. Additionally, when STIs do cause symptoms, they may only be present for a brief time — one or two days — and then go away. Unfortunately, just because the itching, burning, discharge, bumps or blisters disappear, that does not mean that the actual infection is gone. Therefore, the only way to know whether or not you have an STI is to get tested.

Burning With Urination

The medical term for this is “dysuria,” meaning painful urination. Bladder infections can feel this same way.

Discharge or Bleeding

Fluid leaking out from the penis or vagina is referred to as a “discharge.” The color, smell and consistency of the discharge often suggest the type of infection. Discharges are frequently itchy, uncomfortable and sometimes painful.

Painful Intercourse

“Dyspareunia” is the medical term for painful sex. Bleeding may or may not be present. Painful intercourse may be a symptom of an STI, particularly if you have had pleasurable sex with the same partner previously.

Swollen Glands

Lymph nodes in your groin, neck and armpits may become painful and swollen in reaction to an infection in these sections of the body. STIs may cause enlarged glands in your groin when there are vaginal, penile or anal infections. STIs in the throat from performing oral sex may cause swollen glands in your neck. HIV, herpes and syphilis STIs may cause swollen glands throughout your body.


Herpes simplex infections cause reoccurring blisters anywhere externally in the “boxer shorts region” (genitals, buttocks and upper thighs), internally in the vagina and anus as well as around the lips and mouth. These blisters typically occur as a painful cluster of tiny blisters on a red base, and they rupture and crust over before they resolve.

The initial blister of syphilis, by contrast, is usually a single, painless, larger blister.


Genital warts appear as typically painless, possibly itchy, skin-color, wrinkly bumps. Often it begins as one or two warts, and then the numbers multiply. Genital warts appear most often in the tissue immediately around the anus and vagina, as well as the head of the penis, but they can also grow lower on the thighs. Because they are usually painless, warts inside the vagina are typically only discovered during pelvic exams.


Extreme itching in the pubic hair, armpits, mustache, eyelashes or eyebrows may be from pubic lice. The lice and their eggs are tiny, but they’re visible to the naked eye. Mild to moderate itching may precede or accompany herpes outbreaks, genital warts or syphilis.

Fatigue or Flu-like Illness

Initial HIV, herpes and syphilis infections may present symptoms similar to the flu or mononucleosis, such as fatigue, fever, swollen glands and generalized aches and pains. Hepatitis B and C may also cause general viral symptoms, including fever, fatigue, aches, nausea and vomiting, with or without yellowing of the skin and eyes.

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