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Genital ulcers

Genital ulcers can be a symptom of HIV. In the United States, most young, sexually active patients with genital ulcers have genital herpes or syphilis. Chancroid is another cause of genital ulcers that is less common in the United States. But, for women with HIV, genital ulcers also could be a symptom of other things, like cancer or CMV. If you have ulcers, see your doctor to find out what's causing them. Below you'll find information about herpes, syphilis, and chancroid.

Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). The main symptoms of herpes are painful blisters or open sores in the genital area. Before you get these sores, you may feel tingling or burning in your legs, buttocks, or genital region. The herpes sores usually disappear within two to three weeks, but the virus never goes away. So, you can get herpes sores again. Herpes sores are more common in people with HIV and may be severe and painful. It is worse when CD4 cell counts are low. Herpes sores can be treated, and medicine also can help prevent future outbreaks.

Syphilis usually starts with a painless open sore that appears on the penis or in or around the vagina. You can also get them near the mouth, anus, or on your hands. You may not notice the first symptoms because they are very mild and go away suddenly. If you don't get treatment, syphilis gets more serious. You can get a rash and, in time, have problems with your heart and central nervous system. Syphilis is treated with penicillin. To make sure the treatment is working, you should see your doctor at 3, 6, 9, 12, and 24 months after you start penicillin.

Chancroid (SHAN-kroid) begins with open sores on the genitals. These sores occur within a week after you get it. You may not notice the sores or have other signs of illness. Symptoms can include painful urination or bowel movements, painful sex, rectal bleeding, or vaginal discharge. It can be hard to tell chancroid sores apart from ulcers caused by genital herpes or syphilis. See your doctor to figure out what the ulcers are. Many drugs are used to treat chancroid. If you're HIV-positive, the ulcers may heal more slowly. The drugs fighting chancroid are less likely to work. So, you may need to take the drugs longer than someone without HIV.

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More information on Genital ulcers

Read more from womenshealth.gov

  • Genital Herpes Fact Sheet - This fact sheet provides information on genital herpes, its symptoms, ways to reduce outbreaks, and the complications that it might cause.
  • Syphilis Fact Sheet - This fact sheet explains what syphilis is, how it is spread, and how best to avoid infection. It describes symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment, and lists sources to contact for more information on syphilis.

Explore other publications and websites

  • Chancroid (Copyright © American Social Health Association) - This website answers questions about chancroid. Topics include a description of a chancroid, its transmission, symptoms, and treatment, and tips for how to talk to your partner about chancroid.
  • Genital Herpes - This website has links to information about the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, possible complications, prevention, and current research on genital herpes.

Content last updated: July 01, 2011.

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