The topic of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and their signs and symptoms is quite complex - many are known to show clear symptoms whereas a handful of STIs can go undetected as they can be asymptomatic; this is why it’s so important to screen your sexual health on a regular basis.

Let’s chat about STIs going undetected; including what STIs are known for showing little to no symptoms and what symptoms you should be keeping an eye out for should they appear.



Can STIs go undetected?


A significant number of STIs show no symptoms at all so it’s quite easy for the infection to go unnoticed [1].

Having said that, if you have an inkling that you may have contracted an STI - it’s important to get screened to rule out any potential infections for both you and your partner’s health.

How soon can STIs be detected?

As mentioned above, many STIs might show no symptoms at all - it’s even possible for some to remain dormant for a long time. So, how long it takes to notice that you may have contracted one depends on the type of infection you’ve contracted [2].

Your safest bet? Screen your sexual health regularly to keep your mind (and body) at ease.


Which STIs don’t show symptoms?


Chlamydia

Commonly referred to as the ‘silent’ infection, Chlamydia often doesn’t bring with it any symptoms - making it easy for the infection to go under the radar.

Should symptoms appear, they usually develop around 1-3 weeks after sexual contact with somebody carrying the infection [3].

The most common symptoms in women can include:

  • Painful urination
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Bleeding between period
  • Bleeding after sexual intercourse

The most common symptoms in men can include:

  • Painful urination
  • Unusual discharge from the penis
  • Testicular pain, tenderness or swelling
  • Burning or itching in the urethra

Gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea is the second most commonly reported STI in the world - almost anyone who is sexually active can contract it [4].

Most men and women with Gonorrhoea experience no symptoms at all - when women do have symptoms, it’s common for them to be mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection [4].

If symptoms do occur, the most common in women include:

  • Increased need to urinate
  • White, beige or green discharge from the vagina
  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Heavy periods
  • Spotting between periods
  • A sore throat
  • Pain similar to cramping in the lower abdomen
  • The most common symptoms in men can include:
  • Increased need to urinate
  • White, yellow, beige or green discharge or drip from the penis
  • Swelling/pain of the penis or testicles
  • Redness or swelling at the opening of the penis
  • A sore throat

Genital Herpes

CDC notes that in the United States, one out of every six people aged 14-49 has genital herpes [5].

The symptoms of Genital Herpes are so mild that most people who contract it don’t even realise. After the initial infection, the virus can lie dormant in your body and reactivate multiple times a year.

If symptoms do occur, the most common include:

  • Small blisters around your genitals, anus, thighs or bottom
  • Tingling, burning or itching around your genitals
  • Painful urination

Trichomoniasis

3.7 million people in the United States have Trichomoniasis - however, only 30% of people will develop symptoms [6].

When symptoms do occur, they can be quite similar to symptoms of other STIs - it’s important to take a test to know for certain what STI you may have contracted.

If symptoms do occur, the most common in women include:

  • Itching or burning inside of the vagina
  • Redness or pain inside the vagina
  • Itching or burning during urination
  • Unusual discharge from the vagina

The most common symptoms in men can include:

  • Itching or a burning sensation inside the penis
  • Itching or burning sensation during urination
  • Unusual drip or discharge from the penis

HPV

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is so common that it's likely all sexually active people get at least one strain of HPV during their life. to get at least one type of HPV during their life[7]. Having said this, most of those people may never know they’re infected as they may never develop symptoms.

There are thought to be over 100 varieties of HPV - each is classified into ‘low-risk’ and ‘high risk’ strains; the side effects of carrying the virus will predominantly depend on what strain you’re carrying.

If symptoms do occur, the most common in women include:

  • Warts on the vagina, cervix or anus
  • Warts on the back of the throat
  • Abnormal skin changes on the vagina, cervix or anus
  • The most common symptoms in men can include:
  • Itching or a burning sensation inside the penis
  • Itching or burning sensation during urination
  • Unusual drip or discharge from the penis

How do I know if I have an STI?


When to test for an STI

The most accurate way to know if you have contracted an STI is to take a test - you can do this with your local doctor or from the comfort of your own home.

You should consider getting tested if:

  • You become sexually active
  • You have had unprotected sex
  • You are experiencing symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection
  • You are entering into a new sexual relationship
  • You have received a notification from a previous partner that they are infected (STIs can remain dormant for years and/ or take up to three weeks to become detectable.)

Can I test for an STI from home?

As many STIs don’t have symptoms, early detection and treatment are vital to avoid any long term consequences. If you test positive, you will be able to start treatment immediately and avoid passing an infection to a partner. Our most popular home STI test covers the same infections as provided by physicians, hospitals and government schemes.



References

  1. NHS. How soon do STI symptoms appear? Online: Nhs.uk, 2019.
  2. NHS. How soon do STI symptoms appear? Online: Nhs.uk, 2019.
  3. NHS. Chlamydia. Online: Nhs.uk, 2018
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gonorrhea - CDC Fact Sheet. Online: Cdc.gov, 2014
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital Herpes - CDC Fact Sheet. Online: Cdc.gov. 2017
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Trichomoniasis - CDC Fact Sheet. Online: Cdc.gov, 2017
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital HPV Infection - Fact Sheet. Online: Cdc.gov, 2019