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First Symptoms of Genital Herpes in Women

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Genital herpes does not always show symptoms. There is no cure for oral or genital herpes yet, but there are treatment options available. Get tested today if you think you may have been exposed.

Get Started Here

Millions of women around the world have genital herpes. It’s a sexually transmitted disease caused by the herpes simplex virus. Do you have genital herpes? Are you worried about the symptoms of genital herpes? Today, we’re explaining everything you need to know about the first symptoms of genital herpes in women.

The First Signs and Symptoms of Genital Herpes in Women

Genital herpes is transmitted by any type of sexual contact with the genital area. Condoms and other protective measures can help women avoid some contact with the virus. However, condoms aren’t always 100% effective – parts of your body can still come into contact with exposed skin.

Some of the first signs and symptoms of genital herpes in women include:

  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Painful blisters or ulcers in the genital area, including around the vagina, or on the vulva or cervix
  • Itching, burning, or tingling sensations in your skin

Although some women experience the symptoms listed above, the average woman with genital herpes will experience no symptoms at all – at least initially. Most genital herpes cases are silent with no symptoms.

Symptoms can appear as soon as 4 days after the date of infection. However, in some women, symptoms of genital herpes won’t appear for weeks or even months after infection. There are even some cases of symptoms occurring years after the initial date of infection.

How is Genital Herpes Transmitted?

Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus. There are two major types of the herpes simplex virus, or HSV, including HSV-1 (which typically causes cold sores) and HSV-2 (which typically causes genital herpes). However, either type of herpes simplex virus can cause sores on the genital area.

Genital herpes is transmitted by any type of sexual contact with the genital area of an infected individual. The virus can be transmitted even if the person with the virus has no symptoms or signs of infection.

Herpes can be transmitted by kissing someone who has open cold sores. It can also be transmitted through oral or anal sex.

After the virus enters your body through the skin, it travels along nerve paths. There, the virus may become dormant, or inactive, then remain there indefinitely. The virus will periodically reactivate itself, which is when you may notice the traditional symptoms of genital herpes.

As mentioned above, a condom doesn’t provide 100% protection against genital herpes. The virus can be present on skin that remains uncovered by the condom.

General Symptoms of Genital Herpes in Women

Generally, the first signs of genital herpes can be noticed within a few days or 2 weeks after initial contact. However, some women might not have an outbreak of symptoms for months or even years after being infected.

When symptoms do appear, they tend to be severe. These symptoms can start as small blisters around the genital area before eventually breaking open to produce raw, painful sores. These sores will typically scab and heal within 2-3 weeks.

Outbreaks of genital herpes are typically accompanied by flu-like symptoms, including fever and swollen lymph nodes.

With that in mind, here are some of the general symptoms of genital herpes in women:

  • Cracked, raw, or red areas around your genitals
  • Pain, itching, or a tingling sensation in your genitals or anus area
  • Pain when urinating (this is caused by urine passing over the sores, which is a particularly painful issue for women)
  • Headaches
  • Flu-like symptoms, including fever, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue
  • Backaches

In many women, genital herpes is mistaken for vaginal yeast infections, bacterial infections, or bladder infections. That’s why it’s important to visit a doctor to get an accurate diagnosis.

What to Do If You Think You Have Genital Herpes

There is no cure for genital herpes. However, it’s crucial for you to visit a doctor or sexual health clinic to confirm your genital herpes diagnosis. As mentioned above, the symptoms of genital herpes can be similar to other diseases, which is why testing is important.

Doctors will typically diagnose genital herpes by looking for skin changes in the genital area. The doctor will perform a physical examination. If additional confirmation is needed, the doctor may perform a swab test or a blood test to detect the presence of the virus.

Although there’s no cure, a doctor can provide you with antiviral medications that can lessen the symptoms of genital herpes in women. Antiviral medicine can reduce the pain and discomfort linked to genital herpes outbreaks. Doctors may also recommend taking medicine on a daily basis, which can reduce the number of outbreaks, reduce your risk of infecting others, and reduce your symptoms overall.

Over time, you can expect genital herpes outbreaks to become less frequent and less severe. Typically, the first one or two outbreaks are the most extreme outbreaks experienced by an infected individual. Your body will build up immunity over time.

In some women, outbreaks can even stop altogether over time. However, you can still infect others when symptoms are not present.

In general, women with genital herpes can expect to experience about 5 outbreaks per year.

Frequently Asked Questions About Genital Herpes in Women

Take Charge of Your Health

Genital herpes does not always show symptoms. There is no cure for oral or genital herpes yet, but there are treatment options available. Get tested today if you think you may have been exposed.

Get Started Here

Can I cure genital herpes? There is no known cure for genital herpes. However, your medical provider can provide antiviral medication that weakens symptoms, controls outbreaks, and manages pain. Over time, you can expect the severity and frequency of genital herpes outbreaks to decrease.

Can genital herpes symptoms come back? Typically, genital herpes symptoms will recur during times of emotional stress or illness. During these times, your body’s immune system is less able to suppress the virus.

Can menstruation cause a genital herpes outbreak? Yes. If a woman already has genital herpes, then times of emotional stress, illness, or a weakened immune system can lead to an outbreak. Menstruation, fatigue, illness, stress, surgery, trauma, and even sex can lead to a recurrence of symptoms.

Can I manage symptoms at home? Some women manage genital herpes symptoms at home by taking painkillers like aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen. Others treat sore areas with a warm cloth, a warm salt water solution, or ice.

About Monica Silva

Monica Silva graduated from University of Michigan School of Public Health studying health behavior and health education. She is passionate about improving access to sexual and reproductive health care, and addressing gender-based violence. She was involved in reproductive health advocacy and the creation of Youth Friendly Pharmacies that provide a wide spectrum of sexual and reproductive health services.

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