What are the Symptoms of Female Herpes?

Genital herpes affects many women. Find out how to spot herpes and how to deal with the condition.

Dr Simran Deo Medical Editor

Medically reviewed by

Dr Simran Deo

Last reviewed: 02 Apr 2020

Female Herpes

Genital herpes can be caused by either herpes simplex virus 1 or 2. Many women carry this virus without ever developing gential herpes symptoms. However, even if you never have an outbreak you can still be a carrier and pass on the infection to other sexual partners. It is believed that the virus is more common in women than in men, as women are able to catch it more easily.

The best way to prevent catching genital herpes is to use a condom every time you have sex and to avoid having sex if you have active symptoms. Condoms do not offer 100% protection from the herpes virus but can reduce the risk of catching it.

Which Symptoms Does Genital Herpes Cause in Women?

Herpes symptoms are very similar in men and women as both sexes primarily suffer from blisters and sores. Women often experience herpes sores in the genital area as well as inside the vagina.

The symptoms of genital herpes in women are:

  • high temperature or fever
  • skin irritation, burning or itching in the genital area
  • nausea
  • pain when urinating
  • muscle aches and pains
  • blisters

Fever, nausea and muscle pain typically occur during the first herpes outbreak. Subsequent outbreaks tend to be milder and the symptoms usually only affect the skin.

Women often notice a tingling or itching sensation before the blisters appear.

What Does Vaginal Herpes Look Like?

Women who suffer from genital herpes tend to develop sores on the vulva and inside the vagina. The sores look similar to cold sores, which are caused by a similar virus. They can be very painful and may cause pain when you urinate.

Herpes presents differently in different people and the symptoms can range from very mild to very severe. Some women who have vaginal herpes only encounter one or two blisters while others suffer from multiple clusters of blisters on the vulva and inside the vagina.

The blisters burst after a number of days and develop into open sores. The sores eventually turn into scabs and heal. It can take from several days to 2 - 3 weeks for the outbreak to clear.

Does Genital Herpes Affect the Cervix?

Genital herpes in women may affect the cervix (the lower part of the womb). If the blisters or ulcers get infected, they can cause cervicitis, which can cause symptoms such as pain during sex, unusual vaginal discharge or abnormal bleeding. It is not common for herpes to cause cervicitis and the risk of this happening is minimal.

If you experience cervicitis symptoms you need to visit your GP for diagnosis and treatment.

Can Herpes Cause PID?

If herpes ulcers on the cervix get infected, there is a risk that the infection can spread to the upper genital tract and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). It is very rare for genital herpes to cause this complication.

Signs of PID include abdominal pain, unusual vaginal discharge, pain during sex and pain when urinating. In some cases, PID can also cause nausea and a high fever.

Does Herpes Interfere With Your Period or Delay it?

Genital herpes does not affect your menstrual cycle. Your menstrual cycle is regulated by hormones in your body and the herpes virus does not interfere with this process.

However, some women find that they are more likely to experience a herpes outbreak during their period. It is thought that changes in your hormone balance during your period may make it easier for the virus to cause symptoms during this time.

Herpes in Pregnancy - What are the Risks?

If you are pregnant and know that you have genital herpes it is important that you let your doctor know. Most women who have herpes do not encounter any problems but there is a small risk that the virus is passed on to the baby during childbirth. Women who have the herpes virus have also been found to have a slightly higher risk of miscarriage during the first three months of pregnancy.

In newborn babies, the herpes virus can cause serious complications, especially if it affects inner organs such as the liver or the brain. If you have a herpes outbreak during your pregnancy you will be treated with antiviral medication to clear the sores before the birth.

If you have a herpes outbreak close to your due date you may be offered a cesarian section to protect your baby from getting infected.

Can Herpes Make you Infertile?

While some sexually transmitted diseases can affect female fertility in the long run, genital herpes does not. Numerous studies have confirmed that there is no link between fertility problems and genital herpes infections.

If herpes sores get infected and cause pelvic inflammatory disease, this could have a negative impact on your fertility. However, herpes is not a common cause of PID.

Does Genital Herpes Cause Vaginal Discharge?

Discharge is not a common symptom of genital herpes in women but in rare cases, it occurs in women who experience recurrent outbreaks.

Is Bleeding a Sign of Herpes?

Herpes does not cause vaginal bleeding but the cores can bleed a little when they break. If you are experiencing unexplained bleeding without any other herpes symptoms it is likely that there is a different condition at play, so you should see your doctor.

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