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Knowing If You Have An STD By Understanding The Symptoms

Reviewed By: Dr. Kurt Kloss, MD
Last Reviewed Date: Dec 07, 2018
Last Modified Date: Dec 07, 2018
Published Date: Aug 23, 2017

Common STD Symptoms: Learn the Signs of STDs and Get Tested

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), are an extremely prevalent problem. In fact, according to the CDC, they are among the most common infectious diseases reported in the United States, with approximately 20 million new infections occurring every year and about 110 million existing cases in total. Lack of awareness of and routine testing for STDs are seen as important factors in the high incidence of these infections, with many affected individuals unaware of infection and unknowingly transmitting STDs to others.Rate of STDs by Age

Anyone who is sexually active is at risk, with more than half of all people in the U. S. contracting an STD during their lifetimes. Highest risk – accounting for about half of new infections annually – is among individuals between the ages of 15 and 24, despite the fact that they account for just 25 percent of the sexually active population. For these reasons, the CDC recommends STD screening for all sexually active individuals at least once a year. However, even for those who are tested regularly, knowing and watching for common STD symptoms between health screenings is very important to avoid long-term health risks and the possibility of spreading infection.


Chlamydia is the most commonly reported infectious disease in the U.S.Rate of STDs by Year

It is a bacterial infection that occurs in both men and women, and can be easily cured with antibiotic medications. If left untreated, chlamydia can cause permanent damage to sexual organs, especially in females. While it is often asymptomatic in its early stage, STD symptoms may appear one to three weeks after infection and can include:

  • Painful urination
  • Abdominal pain
  • Abnormal discharge from the vagina or penis
  • In women, pain during sexual intercourse
  • In men, testicular pain.


Another bacterial infection, gonorrhea grows in the genital tract and is the second most frequently reported infectious disease. Without antibiotic therapy to clear the infection, this disease can eventually do permanent damage to the reproductive system, joints and heart. New drug-resistant strains make prompt treatment more important than ever. Gonorrhea does not always produce STD symptoms, but when it does they generally appear within 14 days of infection and can include:

  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Yellowish, thick or bloody discharge from the vagina or penis
  • Abdominal pain
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Pain or swelling in the testicles
  • Anal itching
  • Painful bowel movements


Once nearly eradicated in the U.S., syphilis is back and incidence is on the rise. A bacterial infection, syphilis can be cured with antibiotic therapy, and is particularly dangerous when left untreated, capable of damaging the brain, nerves, liver, eyes, blood vessels, heart, bones and joints. Early symptoms of the disease are mild and often go undetected. These can include:

  • Small painless sores on or inside the genitals, mouth or rectum
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Rash characterized by red or reddish brown spots
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches

Genital HerpesHerpes Simplex Virus

Genital herpes is a viral infection, spread through sexual contact. It is extremely contagious, and enters the body through small openings in the skin or mucous membranes. While the disease cannot be cured, antiviral medications can suppress outbreaks. STD symptoms that can be associated with the initial stage of genital herpes include:

  • Small, red bumps, blisters or open sores in the genital or anal area
  • Itching or pain in the genitals, thighs or buttocks
  • Flu like symptoms, including fever, body aches and swollen lymph nodes

Other common STDs that all sexually active people should be aware of and screened for on a regular basis include hepatitis, trichomoniasis HIV, HPV and genital warts.(6) Since the majority of STDs are easily treated and many can cause serious health effects if they are not, early detection is vital. Unfortunately, STDs often go undetected for some time, since many present with very subtle symptoms or, in some individuals, no symptoms at all. Another issue that commonly leads to a failure to detect and treat STDs is the intimate nature of these conditions, with many who notice possible STD symptoms hesitant to bring their concerns to their regular health care provider due to embarrassment or fear of judgment.

However, there are STD testing options that do not involve an awkward discussion with your family doctor about your sex life. STD clinics offer discrete testing in many areas, or for a higher level of confidentiality, STD screening tests can be ordered directly through private medical testing services, such as Health Testing Centers. With Health Testing Centers, STD screening tests can be discreetly ordered online. Individuals who are need assistance selecting the appropriate tests can speak – confidentially – to a nurse by phone for professional advice. Tests are conducted at one of over 1400 convenient LabCorp locations, and results are securely delivered directly to patients.

Some of the media in this article come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with the identification numbers #14670. Charts were compiled from STD Surveillance data from the CDC.