Sexually Transmitted Diseases 101
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are not only embarrassing, but can harm your future health and well-being if not treated quickly and properly. These sexual diseases include gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, genital herpes, genital warts, Hepatitis B, HIV and syphilis and are sometimes manifested by discharge from the vagina or penis and pain when urinating.
Statistics indicate that half of all sexually active adults will contract an STD by the age of 25. These are serious and harmful illnesses that require immediate treatment. Some are incurable and can result in death.
An early diagnosis could mean the difference in life and death. The more you know about STDs the better able you will be to protect yourself. You need to be aware of the basics of STDs such as how you may contract them, the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment and how to protect yourself from them.
If you’re a sexually active adult, you owe it to yourself to know all you can about STDs and what you can do to prevent it from ever happening to you.
Having Sex Isn’t the Only Way to Get an STD
Many people – especially sexually active teens – have the impression that they can only contract an STD by having sexual intercourse. That’s simply not true. Some STDs can also be spread by having contact with an infected area or open sore on another person.
It’s also a false belief that you can’t get STDs if you only have oral or anal sex. You should be aware that STD bacteria and viruses can also enter the system through cuts or abrasions within the mouth, anus, penis or genitals.
Unknowing teens are especially vulnerable for contracting STDs and the statistics are rising among both the rich and poor. It’s vitally important that sexually active teens are aware of the serious health problems that STDs can cause now and in later life.
For example, permanent damage can occur from the ravages of an STD in the form of infertility – never being able to have a family. If a young person contracts HIV/AIDs, the result can be long years of treatment and even death.
STDs are such an embarrassing issue that many people don’t tell others they have one and the symptoms may not be noticeable. Or, a sex partner may not know they have one and unknowingly pass it on to others. This is why STDs are so easy to spread.
The chances of someone contracting an STD increase if they begin sexual activity at a very young age, have multiple sex partners or have unprotected sex. Even with protected sex by using a condom, diaphragm or other method, an STD may occur and possibly leave your health damaged forever.
An STD may not only affect your health negatively – it may also ruin your intimacy with others as well as setting yourself up for a reputation that may be difficult to shed. Protect yourself by learning everything you can about STDs and taking precautions so it never happens to you.
How to Recognize Symptoms of STDs
With certain STDs, symptoms may not be recognizable or uncomfortable enough for a person to identify. Since the symptoms aren’t always obvious, you need to see a doctor on a regular basis for examinations and testing.
It’s especially important to be tested if you suspect or know that you’ve been exposed or if you’re sexually active with various partners. Some STI (Sexually Transmitted Infections) are fairly easy to treat while others require a treatment plan that should be monitored and managed by a healthcare provider.
It’s vitally important that you inform your sexual partner(s) so they can also be diagnosed and treated. If an STI remains untreated, you’re more at risk of contracting another type of STI – which can be more devastating – such as AIDs or HIV.
The untreated STI can damage your immune system to withstand infections in the genital area and sores or abrasions may occur, increasing your chances of getting the HIV virus.
It could also result in infertility. Even if you have no symptoms of an STI, you may pass one on to sexual partners. The hepatitis STI can be transmitted to another if one person is infected with the virus and passes it along through the blood.
Others may only be contracted through sexual contact. An example of STDs that are difficult to detect is Chlamydia, a bacterial infection in the genital area. Early-stage symptoms are sometimes missing and when you do realize them it may be a few weeks into the infection.
During that time the STD can be passed on to many others depending on how sexually active you are. When symptoms of Chlamydia do occur, you may experience pain in the lower abdomen, pain during urination, discharge from penis (or vagina in women), pain during sexual intercourse (for women) or testicular pain in men.
Genital warts (Human papillomavirus or HPV) infections are common among sexually active persons and could cause women to contract cervical cancer in time. You may notice small areas in the genital area that are flesh or gray in color and may form a cauliflower shape when bunched together.
You could also experience bleeding during intercourse or some type of discomfort in the genital area such as itching or pain. But some people experience no symptoms at all. Be aware that genital warts may be found on the penis, anus or scrotum or even within the throat or mouth if you’ve had oral sex with a person infected with the virus.
The tichomoniasis infection is caused by a parasite (Trichomonas vaginalis) and is a one-cell, microscopic problem spread by having sexual intercourse with a person who has the infection.
In men, the urinary tract is commonly infected, but there may be no symptoms. In women, the trichomoniasis infection can be manifested in the vagina. You might experience slight to severe irritation and inflammation within five days to a month from exposure.
You’re also likely to experience other symptoms such as a vaginal discharge (or penis), itching in the genital area, pain during intercourse or when urinating. These may also be symptoms of other STIs, so see your healthcare provider immediately when experiencing these or other symptoms.
Gonorrhea (also called “the drip” or “the clap”) is a nasty STD infection of the genital tract, but can also appear in your eyes, throat or anus. It’s highly contagious and the first symptoms will usually appear with the first ten days after you’ve been exposed.
You might also have the infection for months until symptoms appear. Some of the symptoms include pain or irritation whey urinating, a bloody or cloudy discharge from the vagina or penis, itching in the anal area, painful and swollen testicles and heavy menstrual bleeding.
Sexual contact is the usual method for transmitting gonorrhea, but body fluids may also pass on the infection. It’s common for pregnant women to pass on the infection during childbirth.
Those who have sex with multiple partners are more likely to contract the disease. The gonorrhea bacterium grows and multiplies in the mucus membranes, especially in the moist and warm areas such as the cervix, uterus, urethra (men and women) and the egg canals.
It can also be present in the anus, throat and mouth of men or women. Other, especially horrific STDs include Hepatitis A, B or C. They’re all considered viral infections that can affect the liver.
Although B and C are the most damaging, all three can inflame the liver and cause consequences such as extreme fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, fever, joint or muscle pain, itching and yellowing of the whites of your eyes.
It could be weeks or months before symptoms of a Hepatitis infection appear, but some damage to your liver may have already taken place. If you think you’ve been exposed to a Hepatitis STD infection, be screened immediately so you can begin an effective treatment plan.
Another highly contagious STD virus is genital herpes, caused by the HSV (herpes simplex virus) which invades your body through small cuts in the skin or through the mucous membranes.
You may never suspect that you have the genital herpes virus because the symptoms may be so light and hardly noticeable. If the virus does manifest itself in your body, the initial flare-up is usually the worst. After that, you may have frequent flare-ups or never have another.
Symptoms of the genital herpes virus include pain or itching in the genital area, inner thighs or anus. It can appear after several weeks of exposure in the form of tiny red bumps, open sores or blisters in those areas of the body.
The herpes ulcers can be particularly painful – especially during urination and may be accompanied by flu symptoms such as nausea, fever, headache and muscle aches. In many cases you may be able to pass on the infection – even when there are no ulcers.
Some symptoms such as irritated hair follicles, pimples on the genital area and itching may not be an STD, but it’s best to get it checked out rather than worry needlessly or take a chance on passing an infection to others.
How to Diagnosis and Treat an STD
Early diagnosis and proper treatment are keys to preventing the disease from becoming worse and to prevent possible health issues that could lead to life-long problems or even death.
Most of all, an early diagnosis and treatment will help avoid passing it on to others. Most STDs can be diagnosed with a simple urine sample, but it may be necessary to test fluids from active sores to obtain the correct diagnosis.
For other STDs such as HIV or certain stages of gonorrhea, a blood test is necessary to confirm the diagnosis. You can also be tested for an STD if you have no symptoms but suspect you may have been exposed.
This process is called “screening” and isn’t part of a typical healthcare checkup, so you may have to request it. Some healthcare screenings automatically test people who are ages 13 to 64 by blood or saliva samples to determine if they carry the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which can lead to AIDS.
Pregnant women may be tested for HIV, syphilis, hepatitis B and chlamydia during the first visit for prenatal care –especially if the woman is at high risk for an STD. Also, women who are age 21 and older are usually given a Pap test for certain conditions such as cancer or pre-cancer, HPV and inflammation.
Hepatitis C is prevalent among men and women born between the years of 1945 and 1965, so if you’re in that age group you should be tested. If you’re a sexually active woman under 25 years of age, you should be tested (by a urine sample or vaginal fluid) for the chlamydia STI.
Since men who have sex with other men run a greater risk of contracting STIs, it’s recommended to have that frequent (at least once a year) screening tests for HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and hepatitis B.
It’s not a very romantic topic when you first meet a new partner, but you should discuss STDs before you engage in anal or vaginal intercourse and ensure that you’ve both been tested.
Unfortunately, HPV (papillomavirus) testing isn’t available for men and there are no reliable tests for genital herpes. You could contract the virus even when your partner has no symptoms.
Bacterial STIs are easier to diagnose and treat, but viral infections aren’t always completely cured. They can be managed, however, and a rapid diagnosis and treatment plan may help lower the risk of infection in the baby if you’re pregnant.
Treatment of an STD includes various methods, depending on the nature of the infection. Antibiotics may be used to eliminate such parasite and bacterial infections as chlamydia, trichomoniasis and syphilis while an antiviral prescription may be used to treat and prevent herpes.
Antiviral drugs also help to keep the HIV infection at bay for years at a time, also lowering the risk of transmitting the disease. Early diagnosis and immediate treatment of an STD is the only way to ensure the effectiveness of the treatment. Go for retesting as often as your doctor suggests to ensure you haven’t been re-infected.
Preventing and Managing STDs
Receiving a diagnosis of having an STD can be devastating. But, early diagnosis, treatment and future prevention are imperative to successful management and eventual cure. Prevention is key to contracting more or another type of STD or passing it on to others.
Safe sex is one way to lessen the odds of becoming infected and spreading it to others. If you’ve already been diagnosed, keeping up with the proper treatment can prevent devastating symptoms and infecting others.
Keep in mind that taking steps to prevent an STD is much easier than seeking diagnosis and treatment. Public health departments are great resources for information about prevention and treatment and can help with issues such as notifying your partner(s), seeking treatment and even counseling to help you deal with the emotional repercussions.
One reason it’s important to notify your partner of the infection is to reduce the risk of getting re-infected and so that he or she can notify other partners. Notification is especially important if you’ve been diagnosed with syphilis or HIV so the other person can begin testing and preventative treatments.
Some ways to help prevent infection of an STD is to use condoms every time you have sex. A device called a “dental dam” is available for women to use when receiving oral sex. If you have sex with multiple partners, be sure to get timely exams (genital for men or gynecological for women).
Regular screening for STDs help you catch them early and treat them for the most desirable result. Be completely honest with your doctor about the type of sex you’re having (oral, anal or vaginal) and how many partners you normally have sex with.
If you’re too embarrassed to see your family doctor, seek out a clinic to receive a confidential exam. Be sure to get an exam if you think your partner may have passed on an STD – even though you may not be experiencing symptoms.
Even if you have no symptoms of an STD, it’s imperative that you’re tested often – especially if you’re having sex with multiple partners. You may believe your partner(s) are free from STDs or you might be using protection and think you have no need to be screened.
But the truth is that hoping your partner is telling you the truth about not having an STD (he or she may not have symptoms) and using protection is no guarantee that the method will work. Whether you’re straight, married or gay, you’re at risk for contracting an STD if you’re having sex.
Today, it’s possible to receive same-day screening for some STDs and there are treatment and counseling centers available in almost every city. Unfortunately, finding new treatments to counteract STDs is extremely difficult and some of the old treatments, such as antibiotics are becoming less effective because of new organisms that resist the treatments.
Each new drug is subject to rigorous testing and trials and after months and years of testing, most of these never reach the marketplace. The drug AZT was originally used to treat cancer, but discovered in later years that it was also effective in slowing the onset of HIV infection to AIDS.
Certainly, the diagnosis of an STD can be devastating, but there are treatments available that can ease the symptoms and in some cases, cure the disease. Keep in mind that contracting an STD doesn’t define who you really are.
Seek emotional counseling if you’re having a hard time accepting the fact that you have an STD diagnosis – and take the necessary steps to prevent contracting another STD or passing it on to others.