When you suspect that you may have contracted an STD, the time until you get a formal diagnosis can be agonizing. In the interim, it might be tempting to self-diagnose using information on the internet. While STD pictures are a big help when it comes to differentiating specific sexually transmitted infections from other conditions, there are a lot of situations where they may not be as helpful as they seem.
In their initial stages, many sexually transmitted infections have very similar characteristics. You might feel lethargic or feverish, or have muscle cramps, flu-like symptoms, or just a generally “sick” feeling. There may also be swollen or sore lymph nodes in the groin area, burning pain during urination, a discharge from the genitals, or a single painless bump near the anal or genital area. Some infections, like chlamydia, can occur without causing any symptoms whatsoever. Others, like HIV or gonorrhea, may only begin to present outward symptoms after the infection has progressed.
The sexually transmitted infections that are most easily identified with STD pictures are typical presentations of herpes, genital warts, and infestations of crab lice. Herpes typically shows up as open sores in the area of infection– usually the mouth or genitals, but other areas of the body can be affected. Crab lice are small insects (up to 2 millimeters long) that attach themselves to the pubic area. Sometimes, they can cause skin to develop spots of bluish discoloration in the areas where they feed. Genital warts show up as warty growths in the genital area.
Though illnesses like herpes and genital warts are associated with external symptoms, they may also present atypically. An atypical presentation is any presentation that doesn’t follow the textbook example of the disease– for example, it’s entirely possible for someone to carry and transmit the human papillomavirus without displaying visible warts on their external genitalia. In fact, many people who contract HPV will never realize it.
Are STD pictures useful for diagnosing sexually transmitted infections? Yes and no. While photographs may help people differentiate between genital warts and contact dermatitis, for example, they can’t provide the final say when it comes to detecting STDs. Ultimately, patients should always rely on their physicians when it comes to diagnosis and treatment any time an STD is suspected.