Various sexually transmitted diseases may affect woman but the most commonly seen infections includes chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, genital herpes, syphilis, and HIV(human immunodeficiency virus). A sexually transmitted infection is the transmission of a pathogenic microorganism through sexual intercourse – the most prominent signs and symptoms may be seen on and around the genitalia, perianal area and mouth. It may also involve the eyes, skin, certain glands and lymph nodes. With systemic infections like HIV, many non-genitourinary organs are also affected to varying degrees.

Women are at greater risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections if they :

  • have intercourse with multiple partners
  • practice unprotected sex
  • have a previous history of a sexually transmitted infection

Alcohol misuse and drug (narcotic) use may also be considered as risk factors but is often related to impaired judgement with regard to safe sex. The co-existence of more than one sexually transmitted infection is more commonly associated with risky sexual behavior particularly among sex workers.

Many sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) remain silent (asymptomatic) for long periods of time, and a woman may be a carrier and pass an infection to her partner without knowing that she is carrying the disease. Regular screening, practicing safe sex and a monogamous relationship are therefore essential in preventing and quickly treating any infection.

Signs and Symptoms of STDs in Women

The signs and symptoms that should alert a woman to the possibly of a sexually transmitted infection includes :

  • Swollen groin lymph nodes
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Pain or burning sensation upon urination and/or during intercourse
  • Itchy vagina and vulva, often with pain
  • Inflamed vulva – vulvitis
  • Genital and perianal lumps, warts
  • Genital ulcers
  • Abnormal, non-menstrual vaginal bleed

Lower abdominal and pelvic pain is frequently seen with STDs in women but may be due to a host of other causes unrelated to an infection. These signs and symptoms may arise anywhere from a few days to several weeks after infection with a few diseases laying dormant and asymptomatic for years. Genital candidiasis and bacterial vaginosis are not considered as sexually transmitted diseases but may cause many of the symptoms mentioned above.

Generalized symptoms like a headache, acute fever, skin rashes and fatigue shortly after infection is more likely to be due to HIV infection. Read more on early signs of HIV infection.

Causes of STD Symptoms

The more common causes are discussed under the various symptoms of STD’s, however, certain diseases may present in an uncharacteristic manner at times.

Vaginal Discharge

An abnormal vaginal discharge may be seen in most sexually transmitted infections but is more prominent in :

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Trichomoniasis

Pain

Pain may be present in the lower abdomen or pelvis, isolated to the external genitalia (vulva, vagina) and/or urethra (urethritis). The pain may exacerbate during urination, sexual intercourse and even if straining to defecate.

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Trichomoniasis

Skin Symptoms

The skin symptoms in sexually transmitted infections may vary in presentation from a red itchy rash, to blisters, open sores, boils and warts. It may be isolated to the groin or extend to the perianal area. Other sites commonly affected include the mouth, although a generalized skin rash may be seen in certain infections like HIV.

Skin rash

  • Genital herpes
  • HIV

Genital sores/ulcers

  • Genital herpes
  • Syphilis – painless chancre

Genital warts

  • Human papilloma virus (HPV)

Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on February 8, 2011