Information about STI related vaginal sores

Note: The information in this post will primarily focus on STI related vaginal bumps, lumps, and warts but should not replace being examined by a physician/provider. Please see a health care provider if you have any questions or concerns about symptoms you are having.

Have you started noticing some bumps on your vagina or vulva (external part of your genitals)? While there are a variety of explanations for what these bumps and lumps could be, for most women the big question in your mind is, “Could it be a sexually transmitted disease or infection (STD/STI)?”

Some causes for genital bumps are no big deal. Bumps can vary widely in size, appearance, and discomfort level. There may be a single bump or a cluster; they may be round and smooth or rough and patchy; they can be flesh-toned or have a red/white appearance; they can be painless or painful and itchy.

Bumps can appear anywhere within the vaginal canal, rectum, or in other genital areas such as the labia (lips) and vulva (external).

It is often difficult to tell the difference between an STD vs. another cause, especially if you or your partner are having sex with other people. The only way to know for sure is to get accurate testing and diagnosis by a provider such as an MD, NP, PA, etc…

There are primarily 3 STI’s that can cause lumps, bumps, or warts. Those are:

  • Genital Herpes (HSV 2)-bumps or blisters
  • Syphilis-painless firm round bumps/ulcers (chancers)
  • HPV-warts

Each of these STI’s differ in their symptoms, treatment options, and risk to pregnancy.


Genital Herpes

Genital Herpes is a common STI caused by transmission of herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV 2).

According to the CDC, more than 1 out of 6 people aged 14-49 have genital herpes.

Transmission: Herpes is spread orally, vaginally, or anally through skin-to-skin contact with infected fluids/lesion.

Symptoms: Often there are few or only mild symptoms, but if you do have an “outbreak,” it may present as red bumps that turn into blister like lesions on the genitals or rectal area. These lesions can then break open, bleed, and become painful. Outbreaks are often mistaken for ingrown hairs or vaginal pimples.

Diagnosis: Genital herpes can be diagnosed by taking a specimen sample of a lesion/bump or a blood test if no lesion is present.

Treatment: There is no cure for genital herpes – it is a lifelong disease and recurrent outbreaks may happen over your lifetime. There are antiviral medications a doctor may prescribe to help shorten and lessen severity of an outbreak.

Recurrence: The first outbreak may be most severe, even causing flu-like symptoms. Recurring outbreaks are typically less severe and shorter in time span.

Pregnancy Risk:  If you have genital herpes and are pregnant, ongoing prenatal care is VERY important. Research suggests herpes infections may lead to increased risk of miscarriage or premature delivery.

If you have a current outbreak at time of delivery, there is a risk of transmission when the baby comes through the birth canal. This can lead to a serious and potentially fatal infection for the baby. Taking anti-herpes medications during the end of the pregnancy may reduce your symptoms at delivery, reducing risk of transmission to the infant. If there is still any concern about transmission, your OB may recommend a C-section.

Next month I’ll discuss the other 2 STDs that can cause lumps, bumps, and warts – syphilis and HPV.

Krista Spencer, Nurse Manager, RN