Genital Herpes Symptoms

How can I tell if I have herpes?

The challenge with herpes is that you can't always tell if you have it. Often, people don't know if they are infected with the herpes virus. It's estimated that only about 20% of those who have herpes are even aware they have it. When there are symptoms, they appear in the form of painful blister outbreaks on the skin near the genital area. Initial herpes outbreaks may also feel like the flu with swollen glands, muscle aches, headache, fever, and pain or difficulty during urination.

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If I had a first outbreak of herpes sores, when would it appear?

If you get a first outbreak, it would happen anywhere from 2 days to 12 days after exposure. Blisters or sores may return from time to time, but they're usually less severe and heal more quickly than the first outbreak. Most people say that recurrent outbreaks begin with itching or burning on the skin in the area where blisters or sores are about to appear.

Pictures of Herpes Symptoms

Herpes Symptom 1
Herpes Symptom 2
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Herpes Symptom 5
NOTE: These photos represent symptoms of advanced disease.

What does a genital herpes outbreak feel or look like?

Most people who feel symptoms feel what's called a "prodrome", which is an early warning signal that comes before an outbreak. This is often a tingle where you've had previous sores and can last anywhere from two hours to two days. For 25% of the people who so get recurrent outbreaks, the prodrome will be the only symptom they actually feel. When the prodrome actually develops into sores, the tingling, itching, burning or pain is followed by the appearance of painful red spots which, within a day or two, evolve through a phase of clear, fluid-filled blisters which turn yellowish. The blisters burst, leaving painful ulcers that scab over and heal in about 10 days. For women, the blisters can form inside the vagina, so it can be painful to urinate. Women who experience this find that it's helpful to load up on fluids to dilute the urine and lessen the stinging.

Oral Herpes Symptoms

Most common

  • Usually no symptoms at all

Less common

  • sores/ blisters inside the mouth or around the lips
  • fever
  • headache
  • body aches
  • feeling tired
  • swollen lymph nodes (neck, armpit, or groin)

Least common

  • eye infection (eye lids or eyeballs)
  • sores/ blisters on nose or fingers (herpes whitlow)

Herpes symptoms in women ♀

Most common

  • Usually none at all

Less common

Least common

  • Sores/ulcers in and around the anus
  • Sores/blisters around the buttocks and thighs
  • Sores/ blisters on nose or fingers (herpes whitlow)
  • Trouble urinating
  • Meningitis (swelling that effects the brain and/or spinal chord)
  • Encephalitis (swelling that effects the brain)
  • Eczema herpetiform (sores across the body)
  • Eye infection (eye lids or eyeballs)
  • Pneumonia

Herpes symptoms in men ♂

Most common

  • Usually none at all

Less common

  • sores/blisters on the penis (tip and shaft)
  • fever
  • headache
  • feeling tired
  • body aches
  • swollen lymph nodes

Least common

  • sores/ulcers in and around the anus
  • sores/blisters around the buttocks and thighs
  • sores/ blisters on nose or fingers (herpes whitlow)

What triggers (causes) a recurrence of herpes symptoms?

Nobody is sure what causes the infection to rise from the nerve cells and infect the surface of the skin and mucous membranes. For instance, while outbreaks are often associated with periods of weak immune systems caused by sickness or stress, people get them when they appear at full health. Other triggers connected to herpes recurrences are skin wounds, menstruation, sunburn, heat, cold, dental work or wind.

Can herpes outbreaks continue for the rest of your life?

Unfortunately, there is no current cure for herpes. Some people experience a chronic form of herpes outbreaks. People with recurring symptoms average about four in the first year of infection and then less and less each year following. The average person has a recurrence a couple of times per year. Less than 10% of the people living with herpes experience frequent outbreaks, around 6 per year.

Are canker sores in the mouth the same as oral herpes?

Cold sores and fever blisters that people get around the lips (and sometimes inside the mouth on initial outbreaks) are different than canker sores. Canker sores are ulcers that are white or gray with red rims found inside the mouth. These usually last 2 weeks. Here are some of the differences between oral herpes and canker sores:

  • Oral herpes tend to appear on the bone-bearing tissue on the roof of the mouth and the gums.
  • Canker sores tend to appear on soft tissue – on the insides of the lips or cheek and the back of the throat.
  • Herpes sores start off as little bumps which break apart and then leave small sores.
  • Canker sores are sores from the start.
  • Canker sores are larger than oral herpes sores and are slower to heal.
  • Oral herpes sores tend to recur in the same spot.
  • Canker sores show up in various places within the mouth.
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