Genital Herpes Symptoms
Genital herpes is an extremely stigmatised sexually transmitted infection, and consequently, people rarely know anything about it. Despite this, it is extremely common, with over half of adults worldwide estimated to be carriers.
Genital herpes is not something to be embarrassed about. Many people have it and are unaware, but this does not take away from the unpleasantness of a breakout.
There are several symptoms to look for when it comes to potential genital herpes infection.
Symptoms of Genital Herpes
Although most people who have the herpes virus have never experienced any symptoms, several symptoms are telltale signs of herpes infection.
The symptoms that are experienced with genital herpes significantly vary for each person.
Symptoms of the herpes simplex virus on the genitals vary depending on if you've had an outbreak before or if it's your first time contracting it.
Outbreaks are never pleasant, but the first one may involve initial flu-like symptoms, including temperature, muscle aches, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes. You may also notice pain when urinating.
The Prodrome Stage
Prodromal symptoms are the term for the symptoms that precede an eruption of genital blisters. These are experienced when someone has already experienced their first outbreak of herpes.
These often occur a couple of days before a new herpes outbreak. The most common symptoms in this stage are a tingling or burning sensation in the genital area. This can happen as late as thirty minutes before blisters appear.
Pain in the lower back, legs and buttocks are some other common prodromal symptoms.
Prodromal symptoms don't always end with the appearance of blisters, and someone can experience this stage without a full outbreak following it.
The Blister Stage
The second stage of genital herpes symptoms means a full outbreak is happening.
This can be an uncomfortable time for those infected with genital herpes. It involves blisters filled with fluid appearing on the genital skin. This could be on the genital area itself and even the thighs and buttocks. These blisters can also spread around the anus.
This stage usually lasts around a day or two.
The Ulcer Stage
After a couple of days, the fluid-filled blisters will eventually burst and turn into sores. This is known as the ulcer stage.
These ulcers are usually painful and sore. If this is a person's first outbreak of genital herpes, this stage will be much more painful than if it was a recurring outbreak. These sores will often be clustered together.
The Healing of Ulcers
Days after the initial blisters bursting, the ulcers will begin to crust, marking the beginning of the healing process.
These ulcers should not take too long to heal if this is not the initial appearance of genital sores. However, if someone is experiencing the symptoms of genital herpes for the first time, they will last much longer.
It can take anywhere from two to four weeks for the ulcers to fully heal. If this is your first time, your sexual health clinic will likely give you some medication to manage the effects.
Treatment for recurring episodes includes taking ibuprofen to manage pain and inflammation. Urinating in a tub of water is also recommended for a woman with painful blisters to eliminate stinging or irritating sores more.
Symptoms of Genital Herpes in Women
The signs of being infected with the herpes simplex virus vary from woman to woman. They share some similarities with other sexually transmitted infections; however, some are exclusive to herpes in women.
A woman can get genital herpes from vaginal, anal or oral sex. There are some symptoms that a woman might experience with herpes that men do not.
If a female has never had a breakout before, the initial symptoms of genital herpes may not seem like an indication of a sexually transmitted infection.
A woman may experience fever, swollen glands and lymph nodes in the groin area, painful urination and pressure in the lower abdomen. Some women may never experience these issues, while others may experience them all.
Genital sores can appear anywhere the virus first entered the body, including the vagina, thighs, anus and urinary tract. These will likely be tender and uncomfortable, especially the first time.
Recurring breakouts of genital sores are less painful and last less time. However, women with a weaker immune system can expect more severe outbreaks.
Symptoms of Genital Herpes in Men
Although the indicators of genital herpes are extremely similar in men, a man is significantly less likely to contract it than a woman. This is likely because it is much easier for a woman to contract it from a man than the other way around.
Initial indicators in males include tingling or burning on the penis, anus, thighs or scrotum. This can be accompanied by aching muscles, swollen lymph nodes in the groin, a fever and trouble urinating.
The most significant indication of genital herpes in males and females is painful blisters that burst and leave behind tender ulcers. These blisters can occur anywhere that the virus first entered the body.
If you have any of these symptoms, you should get a herpes test immediately.
What is Genital Herpes?
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Primarily caused by HSV-2, genital herpes causes painful ulcers to form on the genital area. However, HSV-1 can also cause these genital blisters too.
Anyone can get genital herpes, and it is often spread through sexual activity. Sharing sex toys with someone experiencing an outbreak or having oral sex with someone presenting with cold sores is an effective way of catching it.
Herpes simplex virus type 1 primarily causes oral herpes and cold sores. Despite this, it is possible to catch type 1 on the genital area; this can happen through oral sex with someone presenting with cold sores.
Herpes simplex virus type 2 is the most common cause of genital sores. Recurrent episodes of this type of genital herpes are more common. This type can also be spread more easily through sex.
Can herpes be treated?
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for herpes. Although there is extensive research being conducted to help find one, it has not been successful yet.
Despite this, there are excellent ways to manage an episode of genital herpes. Doctors can prescribe medications to help heal herpes sores and manage the pain of initial outbreaks. Antivirals can also lessen the likelihood of passing genital herpes onto a sexual partner.
For recurrent episodes of genital sores, ibuprofen can be taken to relieve swelling and pain. Females are also advised to urinate while submerged in water to eliminate stinging and soreness as much as possible.
If you have any further questions on the management of genital herpes, you should contact your GP or local sexual health clinic. It is important to reach out for information on serious issues such as herpes during pregnancy or mental health after a diagnosis.
What happens if I leave herpes untreated?
Since genital herpes does not have any real threat to a person's health, leaving it untreated would not be necessarily dangerous.
Initial outbreaks would be uncomfortable if untreated, as genital herpes can be extremely uncomfortable the first time. Treatment options offered by doctors include medication to lessen the severity of outbreaks and advice on healing more quickly. This is the most important reason to get treated for genital herpes.
Many people live with herpes every day and are unaware of it; therefore, it is not life-threatening to avoid treatment. However, this is not recommended, and you should let your doctor know if you are experiencing herpes blisters or any other symptom discussed.
If you are pregnant and think you may have the virus, you must speak with your doctor urgently. A first-time episode can be harmful to your baby. If you already had the virus before you got pregnant, your immune system will protect the baby, and you should be able to have a natural birth.
How is herpes transmitted?
Genital herpes is transmitted through vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone infected with the virus. This is likely to happen if the infected individual is experiencing an outbreak of blisters or sores on their genitals or mouth.
It is more likely for a woman to contract genital herpes from a man through sex. This is due to the anatomy of the vagina and any tears in the tissue allowing the virus to enter the body more easily.
The first signs of an episode may appear just a week after initial contact with the virus, but some people may never experience any symptom of genital herpes. A high percentage of people worldwide are infected with herpes but are not aware.
What are the best ways to protect my sexual health?
There are many ways to protect your sexual health. Even if you are already infected with genital herpes, it is important to continue to be safe as herpes simplex virus type 2 can increase the chances of contracting HIV for anyone.
The first way you can protect your sexual health is by communicating with each new sexual partner. Discussing sexual health history is essential to avoid catching genital herpes, HIV or any other serious STI.
Another way to maintain good sexual health is by using contraception. There are many options in the modern world, such as condoms, femidoms and dental dams. Dental dams are a great way to protect from contracting genital herpes from someone who has oral herpes.
Regularly getting tested for STIs is important to protect you and your sexual partners. Getting tested after each new partner allows you to get diseases treated quickly and identify the causes too.