Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Close view of man's hand with a condom | Healthier Me Today

Sexually transmitted diseases are a group of infections mostly spread through sexual contact. You may get an STD through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Some STDs are however spread through other means like skin contact and blood transfusion. There are so many types of sexually transmitted diseases. According to the World Health Organization, more than a million STIs are spread every day globally. A majority of these are asymptomatic which only increases the transmission rate. As a result, you might contract an STD from a person who appears healthy and go on to spread it to others. Most people are diagnosed with STDs suffering a major complication. STDs can affect both your reproductive and sexual health. Some even increase your risk of contracting HIV. While most are benign, without treatment, some STDs can cause serious complications. 

Types of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

There are so many types of STDs spread through bodily fluids. Common sexually transmitted diseases include but are not limited to the following; 

Chlamydia

This is a common infection spread through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Sometimes, a mother might also pass it to their child during childbirth. Chlamydia symptoms don’t show. It is, however, heavily linked to infertility if treatment is not administered. If symptoms occur, they include a burning sensation when peeing and abnormal discharge.

Crabs

Also known as pubic lice, crabs spread through sexual contact and attach to pubic hair. They can also thrive in armpit hair, eyelashes, beard, and eyebrows. They are small and symptoms include severe itching in the affected area. Over-the-counter medications and solutions like 1% permethrin should clear pubic lice. 

Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is contracted through the herpes simplex virus or HSV. HSV is a common virus that affects the genitals, cervix, and skin. There are two types of HSV. HSV-1 affects the mouth and spreads through saliva. HSV-2 affects the genitals, mouth, and anal area and spreads through sexual contact.

Genital herpes causes no symptoms and can remain dormant in the body for long. If symptoms show they will include blisters in the genital area, anus, and mouth. When these blisters break, the sores take weeks to heal. Genital herpes has no cure but medications are available to relieve the symptoms. 

Hepatitis B

This is a chronic infection that can lead to liver damage. Hepatitis B spreads through bodily fluids like semen, vaginal fluids, and blood. A mother can also pass the infection to her baby when pregnant, breastfeeding, or during birth. There is a vaccine for Hepatitis B although it doesn’t guarantee long-term immunity. 

HIV

HIV affects the immune system and spreads through different means. HIV weakens the immune system leaving you susceptible to other infections including STIs. Without treatment, the virus continues to spread leading to serious complications. HIV thrives in bodily fluids including breast milk. HIV/AIDS management has come a long way. Today, treatment can suppress the virus to undetectable levels. When that happens, it’s hard to spread it to another person. 

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

This refers to a class of viruses that affect the cervix, throat, mouth, and throat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 79 million people in the U.S. have the HPV virus. Almost every sexually active person will get HPV at some point. The virus causes no symptoms. There are different types of HPV with some causing genital warts. HPV increases your risk of cervical and throat cancer. Vaccination is the only way to prevent the spread of the virus.

Syphilis

Syphilis is a serious infection that can result in long-term organ damage. Syphilis develops in four stages. The initial stage will cause a sore at the infection site. The sore is painless and most of the time goes unnoticed. At the second stage, you may develop a rash on the soles of your feet or palms. The sore is not itchy and has red or brown spots. At this stage, you will also have lesions on the mouth, anus, or vagina and swollen lymph nodes. Weight loss, hair loss, headaches, fever, muscle aches, and fatigue follow. 

In the third or latent stage, the symptoms disappear. Most people assume that the infection has cleared. The bacterium, however, remains active and continues to cause damage to the organs. The last stage is the tertiary stage. This is when you develop serious complications. These complications affect your brain, heart, nervous system, eyes, and other organs. The symptoms will depend on the organ affected. A test is the only way to confirm if you have syphilis. 

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is a serious infection that leads to life-threatening complications without treatment. It spreads through sexual contact. The infection can also spread from mother to child during birth. Gonorrhea usually doesn’t cause symptoms. If they occur they include discharge, genital inflammation, and pain when urinating. In women, it may also be responsible for bleeding between periods. Antibiotics should resolve the infection before it worsens. 

Symptoms of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Vile with Blood In | Healthier Me Today

Different STDs cause different symptoms. Some don’t cause visible symptoms at all. The common symptoms that may point to an STD include;

  • Genital sores or bumps in the mouth or rectal area
  • A burning sensation or pain when urinating
  • Abnormal discharge from the penis
  • Abnormal and odorous discharge from the vagina
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding even after periods
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Swollen or sore lymph nodes especially in the groin region
  • Pain in the lower abdominal area
  • Fever
  • A rash that appears in the hands, feet, and trunk

Diagnosis of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

If you are sexually active, talk to your doctor about an STD test since most STDs don’t cause visible symptoms. Diagnosis involves a physical or microscopic examination. The doctor will observe a fluid swab or sore from the penis, vagina, mouth, or anus for STDs. Blood tests also help diagnose serious infections like HIV. Regular testing is the best way to protect yourself and your partner against STDs.

How to Treat Sexually Transmitted Diseases

STD Image on Clipboard | Healthier Me Today

Most sexually transmitted diseases are treatable. Treatment involves the use of antibiotics and vaccination. 

Antibiotics: Most STDs are due to bacteria and viruses. These need antibiotics to treat. Some STIs however like gonorrhea have developed a resistance against almost every antibiotic. You must complete your round of antibiotics even when you feel better. Some infections like HIV have no cure but are manageable through antiretroviral medications. 

Vaccines: Vaccines help protect you against future infections. Sexually transmitted diseases like Hepatitis B and HPV can be vaccinated against. The protection is not long-term however and you may need to go for several rounds of the vaccine. 

How to Manage Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Most sexually transmitted diseases spread through sexual contact. As such, condoms and certain barrier methods of contraception can help. Some infections can, however, be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact so it’s a rather grey area. 

Here are ways of managing STDs and reducing your risk of transmitting and even contracting one. 

  • Talk to your sexual partner (s) about previous STD infections. People who have had STDs before are likely to contract again.
  • Go for testing with your partner before you start a new sexual relationship.
  • Get vaccinated against infections like HPV and Hepatitis B.
  • Reduce your intake of alcohol and drugs as these increase your risk of engaging in risky sexual practices
  • Use a condom every time you have sex
  • Pregnant women should get tested for STDs since some STDs spread during pregnancy and birth. 

FAQ

  1. Does washing the vagina or penis after having unprotected sex lower your risk of STI infection? Washing your genitals after sex doesn’t do anything to protect against STIs. In fact, something like vaginal douching can increase your risk of contracting STIs. 
  2. How can I tell if I have a sexually transmitted disease? A test is the only way you can confirm whether you have an STD or not. 
  3. What happens if an STI is left untreated? STIs can lead to permanent damage and, not to mention, an increased risk of transmission. Some STIs can also lead to fertility issues, pregnancy complications, liver damage, and cervical cancer.

Healthier Me Today is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment, always consult with your healthcare professional. Stay healthy!

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