My last post generated a lively discussion about vaginal symptoms and the possibility that they mean a sexually transmitted disease. And overall, vaginal discharge is one of the most common complaints I hear in my office. So I want to give an overview of the most common ways that STDs present - to maybe save you some stress while you're waiting to get to your gyno's office for testing.
Signs that are common among STDs:
- Grey or green discharge. Trichomonas infection - a common but not well-known STD - often causes this kind of discharge, which may be frothy as well.
- Red bumps. Herpes can look like genital acne--but much more painful. When looked at closely, the bumps are actually clear, with a red "base" that shines through.
- Flesh-colored bumps. Genital warts (aka condyloma or low-risk HPV) look something like skin tags when alone, but may cluster together (like a small cauliflower). Like herpes, they can be on your labia, in your groin, at the entrance to your vagina, or near your anus.
- Skin ulcers. Severe herpes outbreaks (especially a first, or primary, outbreak) can progress from bumps to ulcers--craters or fissures in the skin that are extraordinarily painful. And a primary syphilis infection generally presents with a single, painless ulcer.
- Dark urine, yellow skin and muscle pain. Hepatitis infections are often sexually transmitted (hep B and C), but their symptoms come from the effects of the virus on the liver.
- Vulvar itching. The hallmark of a yeast infection. Rarely can signify a mild herpes infection (but even more rarely if there's no bumps within a few days).
- White discharge. Possibly bacterial vaginosis (BV), but may be normal discharge as well. If it's clumpy and cottage cheesy, it may be yeast.
- Clear discharge. Most often is normal discharge (and often indicates impending ovulation).
- Fishy odor. Classic BV.
- Painful urination. While most often a garden-variety UTI, this may be the first sign of chlamydia or gonorrhea.
- Painful intercourse. There are many causes of pain during sex, but one of them may be an STD.
- Flu-like symptoms. Fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes and fatigue are most often influenza or a cold - but this is also how HIV infection presents for many people.
- Feeling normal. Unfortunately, many STD infections don't have any warning signs at all. All the more reason to make sure you're getting tested (for HIV and other STDs) at least once a year or after a new partner. And, of course, to use condoms...every time.
[photo credit: Getty Images]