You know your body best, right? That means it’s important it’s important to pay attention to what it’s telling you—and all its individual parts, from your breasts to your gut and, of course, your vagina. Tuning in to how you feel down there can help you pick up on the often-sneaky symptoms of sexually transmitted infections.
“The number one message for STI prevention is obviously to have safe sex, but that doesn’t always happen, so make sure you get screened routinely and whenever you have a new partner,” Lauren Streicher, MD, author of Sex Rx: Hormones, Health, and Your Best Sex Ever. Though there can be potentially serious ramifications on your health if STIs are left untreated, there are good therapies to cure or control the conditions, so don’t be afraid to bring them up with your doctor. Either way, here are seven not-so-obvious you should watch out for.
1. You’re Spotting—or Appear to Be
It’s easy to see a little blood in your undies in the middle of the month and think, huh, weird, I’m spotting. But mucous-y or runny discharge that’s a bit bloody may be an indication of chlamydia or gonorrhea, says Dr. Streicher. Of course, if you do notice this, don’t panic—but do get yourself to a doc if it persists. Other signs of these STIs include burning when peeing, so if you’re also experiencing that, push the visit to the top of your to-do list.
2. Sex Hurts
Sex generally should feel much more oh yeah than oh no. Know that if you’re feeling pain or discomfort during penetration, it’s possible you may simply be dry down there and in need of a good lube. But if that doesn’t do it and intercourse is still painful on a regular basis and it doesn’t seem to be related to anything you’re aware of (like recovering from a yeast infection or UTI), you should definitely talk to your doctor about testing—especially if you’re spotting afterward, another possible STI red flat.
3. You Feel Flu-y
Fever, body aches, swollen glands, and other flu-like symptoms are additional potential signs of the herpes virus. These will pop up two to 12 days after your hookup, according to WomensHealth.gov. Also be on the lookout for additional symptoms like vaginal discharge, itching, and burning.
4. You’re Crazy-Crampy
Maybe you’re feeling unusually achey before or during your period and don’t know why. Or you could swear you have a bladder infection. Abdominal pain can be another nondescript sign of an STD, particularly in gonorrhea, so if the symptom persists without explanation, get to your OB, stat.
5. You See Strange Bumps Down There
Before you jump to conclusions, know that it could be genital herpes, but it could also be something incredibly benign, too. “When women first start seeing a new partner, they might shave or wax, which can irritate the area and cause ingrown hairs,” explains Dr. Streicher. Or, she says, you remove the hair and notice a mark you never have before. To you, this may look like a sore worth freaking out over. Either way, get clarity at your doc’s office: For the proper diagnosis, “the best time to be seen is when the sore is still there,” she says. So don’t wait—make that appointment now.
6. You Have Weird Discharge
This is often a symptom of bacterial vaginitis, an infection that’s not technically an STI, but is associated with sex and can be really painful and uncomfortable. “Sex can throw off the pH or balance of bacteria in your vagina, leading to BV,” explains Dr. Streicher. That causes symptoms that can be easily confused with an STI or yeast infection, like itching, burning, and an odorous discharge. If your doc concludes you have BV, she’ll give you antibiotics to treat the infection.
7. You’re Symptom-Free (Yep—Scary)
Before you declare this unhelpful and irrelevant to you, it’s important to be aware that most STIs have no symptoms at all, says Dr. Streicher. That’s why it’s all the more important to ask your gynecologist for screenings at your annual exam. “The biggest misconception is that people think that their gynecologist automatically does this testing during your pap. They don’t, and there’s no universal guideline for what to screen for,” she adds. So bring it up yourself and ask to be tested for STIs. Tell your doc about anything you’re concerned about (like, “I was with this guy who…”), which will help him or her figure out which tests you need.
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