Hesperian Health Guides

Do I have an STI?

In this chapter:

Signs that you may have an STI

  • an unusual or bad-smelling vaginal discharge
  • itching genitals
  • painful genitals
  • sores or blisters on the genitals
  • pain in your lower abdomen or pain during sex

Many STIs cause no signs. Even without signs, STIs can pass between people during sex without condoms. To know if you have an STI and what type it is, you may need a blood or urine test, or a test taken by swabbing the affected part of the body. Testing to find and treat STIs in people who are sexually active should be a regular part of health care.

Where reliable tests are not available or take too long, a health worker will ask about signs you have noticed and about your health history, including sexual partners. They will look for vaginal discharge and may do a pelvic exam to look for infection on the cervix, sores inside the vagina, or other problems. They know the infections most common in your region, which medicines cure them, and when more than one medicine is needed.

What to do if you might have an STI

Try to find a clinic that offers STI testing. But even where testing is not available, an experienced health worker can find out what STI you have and what are the best medicines to cure you.

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  • Treat the infection right away. Do not let it get worse. Treatment will protect you from more serious problems later on and will prevent the spread of STIs to others.
  • Get tested if testing is available. You could be infected with an STI but have no signs. Ask a health worker if you should get tested for HIV. HIV infection and other STIs often occur together.
  • Help your partner get treated at the same time. That way, having sex together will not lead to getting repeat infections.
  • Take all the medicine as recommended. Even if the signs have gone away, you must take all the medicine prescribed to completely end the infection.
  • Practice safer sex. You can get another STI or HIV if you do not protect yourself.

If your signs do not go away after taking the medicines, see a health worker. Pain or vaginal discharge could also be caused by cancer or another problem.