Many people with STIs might have no obvious symptoms at all. As a result, the person may not seek treatment for a long time. This delay could result in higher risks of STI-related health problems or complications, as well as the possibility of spreading the STI to partners.
A number of symptoms can indicate the existence of an STI, although specific symptoms are unique for different infections:
- heavier than normal vaginal discharge
- discharge from the penis or rectum
- itching in genital or anal areas
- sores or rashes in genital or anal areas, sometimes also in the mouth
- pain during intercourse
- painful or more frequent urination
- swollen glands in the groin
- fever, headache, general feeling of illness
- pelvic pain that is not related to your period
With syphilis, sores called chancres often appear about 3 weeks after exposure. There are usually one or more sores at the place of initial infection. If left untreated, this first phase of syphilis lasts 3 to 6 weeks. A rash over larger areas of the body can follow 3 to 6 weeks after the sores appear. This is the beginning of the second stage of syphilis. People with syphilis may also get aching muscles and swollen lymph glands as well as flat warts during this stage. Syphilis can also lead to eye inflammation, causing blurred vision. In the second stage, symptoms may come and go over the next 1 to 2 years, then disappear. About one-third of people in the second stage of syphilis will go on to the third stage, where the infection damages the brain, heart, nervous system, bones, joints, eyes, and other body areas.
Hepatitis B can cause many symptoms including a decrease in appetite (associated with nausea and vomiting), jaundice, dark yellowing of urine, and aching in the muscles and joints. These symptoms are signs of liver inflammation or damage.
Genital herpes produces a tingling sensation in the genitals. Sores develop in and around the male and female genitals, anus, thighs, buttocks, and mouth.
Chancroid is caused by a bacteria infection in the genital area. 4 to 7 days after exposure to the bacteria, sores form, often with a red border around them. Although this infection is more common in tropical areas, it is possible to get it elsewhere. Antibiotics treat this infection normally within 2 weeks.
It's possible to transmit pubic lice from one person to another without sexual contact (for example, by sharing bedding, towels, or clothing). However, sexual contact may transfer the eggs or lice from one person to another. Symptoms may include itching of the genital area. You may also be able to see the lice (small, brown, pinhead-sized insects) or their eggs (oval and whitish in colour) in your pubic hair. Wash clothes and bedding in hot water if you discover pubic lice and speak to your doctor or pharmacist for ways to treat the problem. Medicated shampoos or rinses are available over-the-counter to treat pubic lice.
There are serious complications associated with many of the STIs:
- Infertility, pregnancy complications, or higher risks of cervical cancer can occur in women.
- Gonorrhea, if not treated, can spread via the blood stream to joints and heart valves.
- Both gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause eye infections in newborns that came in contact with the bacteria during delivery.
- If syphilis is not treated, it may eventually cause serious damage to the bones, heart, eyes, brain, and nervous system.
- Hepatitis B can lead to long-term liver damage and higher risks of developing liver cancer.
- HIV weakens a person's immune system, putting them at risk for many different infections.
- Chancroid makes a person more susceptible to HIV infection when they're exposed to the virus.
- An active herpes infection at the end of a pregnancy will require delivery by a caesarean section to avoid spreading the infection to the baby.