While this might seem inconsequential considering that laboratory tests are necessary to provide a conclusive diagnosis in the first place, this very fact is the reason why laboratory tests have been made necessary in the medical field. With the overlapping characteristics of various conditions that could almost make it impossible to discern one over the other, knowing what resources to utilize to aid this procedure has long been essential to prevent any medical errors that could lead to more harm than good. With the spread of antimicrobial resistance, novel drugs that claim various health benefits that could never be proven by scientific evidence, and “innovative” procedures that claim an all-natural approach despite the lack of any basis of its practice, doing more harm is almost guaranteed in today’s society without the informed approach that physicians can provide to its patients.
This sad reality is even more amplified in sexual health where everything is seemingly shrouded in a veil of stereotype and fear of the issue itself that information regarding this concept, despite the availability of various resources online, is seemingly non-existent and scarce among the population. Sexual health problems are infamous for having very subtle symptoms that would often be mistaken for a benign condition – not knowing that delaying treatment further could cause long-lasting and irreversible damages throughout its duration. From warts and skin discoloration to pain, swelling, and apparent injuries, the extent of an STDs damage to various organs and its internal structures is irrefutably vast – making it even more crucial to inform the public of its presentations to have themselves tested imperatively and address the conditions as early as possible while it is still manageable at best.
However, one particular symptom observed during an STD infection is considered a cause for alarm in any, especially considering that its presentation is very evident no matter how you look at it. Genital swelling is one symptom that is possible in various sexually transmitted conditions, and it would undoubtedly raise the alarm the moment that it presents itself in a particular individual. Considering that there is no need to worry about having the symptom overlooked by patients (because at this point, no one would), the next critical step in this assessment is to discern the underlying condition behind this particular symptom. Again, mimicry among conditions is relatively common, and knowing how to distinguish one or at least narrow down the possibilities would go a long way in ensuring that the patient could enforce the appropriate prophylactic procedures, request for the proper tests, and approach the correct physician for the condition that they might have. However, note that this still does not encourage self-medication or any self-management strategies unless advised by a physician.
Genital Swelling and Its Intricacies
Genital swelling is a particular symptom that both men and women can experience wherein the genitalia or the area surrounding it presents with some swelling or elevation, coupled with pain, redness, irritation, or discomfort in some, but not all instances. Genital swelling is often construed as a sign of concern as this usually indicates that there is an underlying condition that is causing the structures of the genitalia to accumulate fluid, occasionally being damaged to the internal systems of the organ and thus, causing the body to respond negatively in this particular area.
For instance, in women, genital swelling is commonly associated with a vaginal yeast infection, but this is only one among the plethora of conditions that could cause the genitalia to appear the way it does when there is swelling involved. The evident manifestation of the symptom makes genital swelling even more concerning, making it a telltale sign that there is a problem in this area. With the reputation that the genitalia have in the process of reproduction, or a more vulgar manner, in the production of pleasure, it sure is one way to nudge a person to have themselves tested for the particular condition that is causing this level of manifestation in the body.
An STD or Another Underlying Condition?
As previously mentioned, the body is unique in a way that the conditions that cause specific manifestations and presentations may mimic each other to make the provision of a differential diagnosis even more challenging to generate. However, considering that the organ of concern in this context is the genitalia, the situation becomes even more complex than what some people are making it out to be. Besides the fragility of the genitalia and its sensitivity to external stimuli and damages, the genitalia is a structure infamous for the overlapping presentations that it produces, no matter the underlying condition is to that particular manifestation. As such, when it comes to genital swelling – a symptom that is, by no means, negligible and irrelevant – there are a plethora of conditions that may cause this specific symptom, some of which are sexually transmitted, while some are not and may sometimes even be intrinsic. With that in mind, the only way to recognize whether a particular symptom is due to an STD is by performing the pertinent laboratory and physical examinations that are necessary to provide a conclusive outlook into the nature of the disease itself. Immediate physician consultation is essential to know for sure, and until then, you could only give a differential and narrow down the symptom to several potential causes.
Non-STD Causes of Genital Swelling
To be able to recognize whether you would require preventive measures for sexually transmitted infections, or you would need an immediate physician consultation to manage your symptoms, learning more about the following conditions that cause genital swelling would go a long way in ensuring that you would be able to approach the situation correctly and with accuracy as to how the treatment regimen is supposed to proceed.
An allergic reaction is essentially a type of irritation generated as a response to a particular external stimulant. This is especially evident among women due to how sensitive the vaginal area is to various products, coupled with the saturation of the market with feminine products that all promise a “gentle” formulation but ending up being just as harsh as other substances are when it comes to balancing the environment of the genitalia. In women, applying products such as soaps, lubricants, vaginal wash and douches, tampons, pads, contraceptives, lotions, creams, and even latex condoms could cause the area to react negatively if your body is not able to tolerate the composition of these items. Although an allergic reaction is common for new products, an allergic reaction can still occur with something that the body is already familiar with. Stopping the use of the product that caused the response is usually the surefire solution to this issue.
Irritation of the Region
An allergic reaction is different from a non-allergic reaction because the mechanism behind this process is not immunological in the most basic sense. Essentially, an allergic reaction is due to an underlying allergy to a product, while irritation is caused by the intensity of the product being applied to the area itself. In most instances, chemical fragrances are the most common causes of irritation, particularly those that are present in laundry detergent, perfumes, toilet paper, body washes, soaps, and bath bombs. In some cases, even the fabric of your underwear can irritate, and this is commonly seen among lace and polyester underwear. In the case of underwear causing swelling, it is usually due to the increased friction against the genitalia and the fabric that results in the swelling of the tissue as a response.
While rough intercourse may seem like an unusually popularized habit nowadays with the idea that rough sex is the best way to perform the process, an unnecessarily rough intercourse procedure may generate more friction than usual between your genitalia – causing issues such as pain, discomfort, and sometimes even swelling if the damage is a little too much for your area to handle. Considering that there are instances when the vagina is not lubricated enough to temper some of the friction during penetrative sex, damages to vaginal tissue are imminent and may therefore result in this reaction. To prevent this, ensure enough lubrication in the genitalia by either using an artificial lubricant or by partaking in foreplay to encourage the body to produce its natural lubrication.
Gartner’s Duct Cysts
A particular duct is present during fetal development while the urinary and sexual organs are still developing while a baby is still in the mother’s womb. This duct usually disappears after birth, but a part of the duct remains in some instances. This is known as a Gartner’s duct, and it may attach to the vaginal wall as an extra tissue and develop into a cyst. It is usually being and no reason for concern, but it could grow when left unchecked, cause an infection, and cause pain and swelling within the vaginal region. In most cases, surgery is the surefire way to remove the developed cysts, but its associated symptoms are resolved entirely once the cyst is removed.
The Bartholin’s glands are present on the opposite sides of the vaginal opening. It is the part responsible for the secretion of moisture and fluids that help lubricate the vagina and prevent issues related to friction and contact. In some cases, a cyst develops within these glands, and if left unchecked and unnoticed, these usually get infected along the way. Once infected, it may form an abscess, cause inflammation, and develop pain and tenderness around the vaginal area. If the cyst is small enough, the abscess could drain on its own without any prior management strategy, but antibiotics, surgical drainage, and removal of the cyst are often necessary for more severe tendencies.
Cellulitis is defined as a bacterial infection of the inner layer of the genital skin that may cause swelling, reddening, and tenderness in the affected region. This usually happens when the bacteria enter a cut or tear in the skin within the area, causing an internal infection when the bacteria propagate within the open space. This is commonly seen in cases where a cut is formed while shaving, and cleaning the opening is usually indicated to prevent the entry of pathogens while the area is still healing.
Vaginal Yeast Infection
As previously discussed, a vaginal yeast infection is a common cause of swelling in the genitalia among women. It is caused when there is an observed overgrowth of fungi under the Candia genus, and apart from vaginal swelling, it may cause other symptoms such as burning, pain during sex and urination, redness, a thick mucoid discharge, and skin irritation. It can quickly be addressed using an antifungal medication, but a pertinent doctor’s consultation is still recommended to rule out other conditions that may be causing your specific symptoms.
While this might seem odd because pregnancy usually causes the belly portion of a woman to grow instead of the genitalia region, pregnancy does cause genital swelling due to the pressure placed by the growing fetus in the pelvis, nearby muscles, and blood vessels. Although it does not always occur in pregnant women, the pressure caused by the ever-increasing fetus may result in inflammation, affecting the blood flow and return of the fluid from the lymphatic system – causing swelling within the region that is more akin to edema.
Sexually-Transmitted Conditions that Cause Genital Swelling
To further highlight the associated symptoms that a patient must look out for when they experience genital swelling, the following outline describes the various characteristics of potential sexually transmitted conditions that might cause genital swelling. Do note, however, that this outline does not encourage self-medication, and an immediate doctor’s consultation is still highly recommended to have a more conclusive outlook as to what is causing your presentations to appear.
Chlamydia is a relatively common sexually transmitted infection caused by the pathogen known as Chlamydia trachomatis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Chlamydial conditions cause serious consequences, especially in female patients, causing pelvic inflammatory disease, tubal factor infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and chronic pelvic pain. It is known as the “silent” infection due to its widely asymptomatic nature in both men and women, but symptomatic tendencies may precipitate specific symptoms such as discharge, endocervical bleeding, pyuria, dysuria, urinary frequency, and even develop epididymitis in men to cause pain and swelling.
The most preferred diagnostic test for Chlamydial infections is a nucleic acid amplification test or NAAT. This is the most sensitive approach to detect the presence of the pathogen in an easily obtained sample such as swabs and urine. However, cell culture may also be employed if the resource proves to be scarce enough to warrant an alternative approach.
To address Chlamydial infections, the recommended treatment plan by the CDC is either a single dose of antibiotics or a 7-day course of antibiotic treatment, regardless of the patient’s HIV status. In both cases, it is recommended that abstinence be employed while the treatment is ongoing to avoid further transmission of the causative microorganism of the disease.
Gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted infection caused by the microorganism known as Neisseria gonorrhoeae, is a particular STD that explicitly targets the mucosal areas of the body – causing manifestations not only in the genitalia but in other parts of the body where mucosal tissues are likewise present. It can be transmitted through regular penetrative sex, oral sex, and even anal sex for as long as there is contact with the infected tissue of the affected partner. Similar to Chlamydia, it is widely asymptomatic due to how its mechanism is designed to behave, but it does have a few distinct characteristics that could help in determining its presence. In women, the symptoms of Gonorrhea may include dysuria, discharge, or vaginal bleeding between periods, while in men, the symptoms may be comprised of dysuria and discharge.
Similar to Chlamydia, a nucleic acid amplification test or NAAT is highly recommended for diagnosing urogenital Gonorrhea due to its sensitivity and accuracy of results. Cell culture may be utilized as an alternative for all types of Gonorrhea, while specific FDA-cleared oral and rectal diagnostic tests for Gonorrhea are used for their respective variations.
As a treatment plan, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends administering a single dose of 500 mg intramuscular Ceftriaxone, with alternatives present in case professionals do not recommend the administration of Ceftriaxone for the patient’s infection. A test of cure may likewise be necessary 7-14 days after the treatment to ensure that the pathogen has been thoroughly addressed in the affected areas.
Trichomoniasis is one of the most common sexually transmitted conditions globally, and it is caused not by a bacterium but by a protozoan parasite known as Trichomonas vaginalis. Despite its prevalence, it is still considered by the CDC as the most curable STD, and only 30% of infected patients develop a symptomatic manifestation. In men, the symptoms of Trichomoniasis may include itching or irritation inside the penis, burning after urination or ejaculation, and the production of a discharge. On the one hand, symptomatic female patients may encounter itching, burning sensations, redness and soreness of the genitals, uncomfortable urination, and an unusual change in their vaginal discharge. Based on reports, the discharge may increase in volume, have a change in consistency, may be clear, whitish, yellowish, or green, and may have an unusual fishy smell.
Due to the lack of evident symptomatic manifestations in the case of Trichomoniasis, there are no physical indicators specific to this particular condition and will only be recognized through the appropriate laboratory tests for Trichomoniasis that your physician can order upon consultation. As such, avoid self-medicating before any conclusive diagnosis is provided to you.
The treatment plan for Trichomoniasis is an oral medication prescribed by a physician that is also considered safe for pregnant individuals by the CDC. However, do note that patients who have been treated for Trichomoniasis may still be infected again as infection cases do not develop immunity from subsequent exposures.
Genital herpes is a relatively well-known sexually transmitted infection around the globe due to its high prevalence and lack of a definitive treatment plan to completely cure the disease. It is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus or HSV and its two variants, HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 is often contracted in childhood as an oral case, while HSV-2 infections are more common in genital manifestations. Most infected individuals are asymptomatic, but symptomatic patients would often show apparent herpes lesions that appear as vesicles or blisters that undergo a cycle of incubation, outbreak, bursting, and crusting – occurring in stages known as “outbreaks” repeatedly unless the pathogen is suppressed or the immune system is strengthened to prevent outbreaks.
NAATs are not as effective in Herpes as it is in other STDs due to the viral shedding mechanism of Herpes that makes it more difficult to detect the virus, especially during its asymptomatic stages. Cell culture is also employed in some instances, but its sensitivity remains low in this context. However, type-specific virologic tests are sometimes performed for the diagnosis of recurrent Herpes cycles, especially if there is no present NAAT or cell culture result that identifies the presence of the virus itself.
Unfortunately, there is no available treatment for Herpes infections due to their tendency to recur and occur in outbreaks. Antiviral medications, however, may be used to suppress the virus in the patient’s body and prevent the appearance of “outbreaks” while the virus is still active inside the body.
Testing Centers for STD Infections
If you are currently suspecting that a particular STD causes the swelling that you have observed in your genitalia from the outline provided, the following testing locations offer convenient testing procedures that can be used to provide you with a more conclusive outlook into what is causing the swelling to occur:
What it Offers
STD Check Labs
Custom Kit at $189.00
8-Panel Test at $269.00
Comprehensive panel at $298.00
Free to use
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What usually occurs if Chlamydia is left untreated for a long time?
It would usually incur severe complications that are often irreversible if left untreated in most cases.
Why is Gonorrhea sometimes referred to as “clap?”
The etiology of this term is not entirely known, nor can it be directed to a singular origin, but it may be perhaps related to a French or English word that has been used to refer to the painful treatment process that was once used to treat the disease.
Does Trichomoniasis exhibit a particularly foul odor?
Yes. Trichomoniasis infections can often be described as having a pungent fishy odor.
Is it possible to be reinfected with Trichomoniasis?
Yes. Trichomoniasis infections do not generate immunity, and it is possible to be reinfected with the condition.
Is it possible to contract Herpes from sharing utensils and meals?
No. Bodily fluid exchange is the only high-risk process by which Herpes can be transmitted.
World Health Organization
Pan American Health Organization
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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