Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections that can be spread through sexual contact. This can include vaginal, anal or oral sex. In fact, you don’t even have to “go all the way” (have anal or vaginal sex) to get an STD. This is because some STDs, like herpes and HPV are spread by skin-to-skin contact. Some STDs are caused by bacteria and can be cured by taking antibiotics.
STDs caused by viruses typically cannot be cured, but your symptoms can be treated. STDs are very common with about 20 million new cases diagnosed every year in the United States, so taking steps to prevent STD exposure is very important. (Is it helpful to have external links for data like this?
The most effective way to prevent STDs is to avoid sexual contact. For those who are sexually active there are a number of steps that can lower the chance of getting an STD. These include:
- Knowing your sexual partners and limiting your number of partners. Your partner’s sexual history is as important as your own, and the more partners you have, the greater your risk of catching an STD.
- Using a latex condom every time you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
- Using a dental dam when you engage in oral sex.
- Avoiding risky sex practices. Sexual acts that tear or break the skin, such as anal sex, carry a higher risk of STDs.
- Avoid mixing alcohol and/or recreational drugs with sex. If you use alcohol and drugs, you are more likely to take risks, like not using a condom or having sex with someone you normally wouldn’t have sex with.
- Getting immunized against hepatitis B and the human papillomavirus (HPV). <- Can we link this to info about HPV vaccine?
One of the challenges of treating STDs is that they often don’t cause any symptoms that you would notice until the infection becomes more advanced. You can get an STD from having sex with someone who has no symptoms. Just like you, that person might not even know he or she has an STD. If left untreated, STDs can cause severe damage to your body, even death. Prevention and early diagnosis are the keys to fighting STDs and avoiding long term health problems.
Once you become sexually active, periodic testing for sexually transmitted diseases is highly recommended, especially if you have had any new sexual partners since your last screening. STD testing can include taking samples from the cervix and/or vagina. Blood testing is needed to test for other STDs.
Talking openly with your doctor about your number of sexual partners and your sexual activities will allow the doctor to determine which STDs you should be tested for and how often you should be tested. Your doctor will also be there to design a treatment plan if any of your test results come back positive.
Warning Signs of STDs
Early treatment can prevent many of the serious side effects of STDs. See your doctor for evaluation if you have any of the possible warning signs of STDs:
- Any open sores, red or white bumps or rashes, or liquid-filled blisters – no matter how small – in your genital area
- Redness or swelling in your genital area
- Unusual changes in the amount, color, smell, or consistency of your vaginal discharge
- Pain in your pelvis or abdomen, with or without nausea or vomiting
- Pain, soreness, irritation, or other discomfort during intercourse or bleeding after intercourse
- Fever, loss of appetite, fatigue, or swollen lymph nodes in your groin
- Unusually severe menstrual cramps
- Recurring yeast infections or other infections
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections that are spread by sexual contact. There are more than 20 different STDs caused by viruses or bacteria. Aside from colds and flu, STDs are the most common contagious diseases in the United States. Although some STDs can be cured, others cannot. You can, however, control and treat the symptoms of all STDs. If you think you may have an STD, talk with your doctor so that an effective treatment plan can be developed.
Chlamydia & Gonorrhea
Chlamydia and gonorrhea and two of the most common STDs. They can be transmitted through vaginal, anal and oral sex. Some women can have infections without any symptoms, but others will notice abnormal discharge, urinary problems, pelvic pain and other symptoms. If left untreated these infections can cause Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), which can cause fevers, chronic pelvic pain and can increase the risk for ectopic pregnancies and infertility.
Symptoms of chlamydia and gonorrhea may include:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Pain or burning with urination
- Burning, itching, or redness in the vaginal area
- Pain or pressure in the pelvic area
- Heavier or more painful menstrual cycles
- Pain during or bleeding after intercourse
Antibiotics are used to treat gonorrhea and chlamydia. Symptoms generally improve within 24 hours, but you can transmit both gonorrhea and chlamydia until you are completely free of infection. If your doctor prescribes a single dose of medication, you should wait seven days after taking the medicine before having sex. If your doctor prescribes a medicine for you to take for seven days, you should wait until you have taken all of the doses before having sex. It is important that all sexual partners need to be tested and treated, even if they have no symptoms, to prevent becoming infected again. Repeat infection with chlamydia is common, so you should be tested again about three months after you are treated, even if your sex partner(s) was treated as well.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common STDs. More than 100 types of this virus have been identified. HPV infections can be passed from person to person through vaginal, oral, or anal sex or other types of sexual contact. Certain strains of HPV can cause genital warts to develop and others are risk factors for developing abnormal pap smears or cervical cancer, although like many STDs there may no signs that you are infected with HPV.
Genital warts are flat or raised; pink, white, or brown; and may appear as a few tiny bumps or in clusters. They may appear on the vulva, vagina, cervix, and anus. Genital warts can be destroyed or removed through freezing, surgery, medication injection, or the application of topical creams.
Some types of HPV are linked to cancer of the cervix. HPV causes cells on or around the cervix to become abnormal and, in some cases, precancerous. Regular cervical cancer screening through gynecologic exams and pap smears can be used to detect these changes before they become cancer. When needed, treatments like Cryotherapy or LEEP procedures may be recommended to eliminate the abnormal cells before cancer can develop.
While there is no cure for HPV, there is a vaccine available that protects you against the types of HPV that cause most cases of genital warts and cervical cancer. The vaccine triggers a woman’s immune system to fight off these viruses if she is exposed to them. (link to info on Gardasil Vaccine)
Genital herpes is a viral infection caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus. It is much more common than most people realize. More than one out of every six people aged 14 to 49 years have genital herpes.
Most cases of genital herpes are caused by Herpes Simplex type 2 (HSV2) but some cases are caused by Herpes Simplex type 1 (HSV1) which is more commonly the cause of oral herpes or cold sores. Herpes is highly contagious and can be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact with the affected area, even when there are no visible signs of the infection. The disease is even more contagious when sores are visible. Therefore, completely avoid vaginal, anal or oral sex when you or your partner has any symptoms of oral or genital herpes.
Genital herpes causes sores on or around the genitals. The sores appear as red spots, bumps, blisters, or ulcers that can last from a few days to a few weeks. The sores go away by themselves, but the virus remains in your body. The sores can come back at any time, usually in the same place they first occurred.
Treatment can help heal the sores, but it cannot kill the herpes virus. Once you have herpes, you can transmit the disease to others without knowing it. Therefore, always use a condom and/or dental dam during sex and avoid sexual contact if there are any signs or symptoms of an outbreak present.
Syphilis is a bacterial STD that is potentially life threatening, although easily treated with penicillin if caught in the early stages of infection. Most people have no early symptoms of syphilis. For some, the first sign of this STD may be a painless sore at the site of the infection. The sores are typically small, raised, and smooth and often heal on their own. The second stage of the infection usually begins two to six weeks after the sore heals. Symptoms may include fever, headache, aching joints, and a skin rash. After this stage, there may be another period in which there are no symptoms. If syphilis isn’t treated, it can spread throughout your body, eventually causing nerve and brain damage, blindness, heart abnormalities, and even death.
In addition to being transmitted though vaginal, oral, and anal sex, syphilis can also be transmitted through contact with syphilis sores on an infected person. Sores often occur on the genitals or in the vagina, anus, or rectum. Sores also can occur on the lips and mouth.
Most of the time, a blood test is used to test for syphilis. Treatment with Penicillin is recommended for those who test positive. Even after you’ve been successfully treated, you can still be re-infected. Having syphilis once does not protect you from getting it again, so continued safe sex practices and use of condoms is recommended.
Hepatitis is a serious infection of the liver caused by a virus. Two types of hepatitis, B and C, can be sexually transmitted through body fluids during vaginal, anal or oral sex. Some people are carriers of the virus and, even though they show no symptoms, they can transmit the virus to other people. If symptoms are present, they can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
Testing for Hepatitis B and C is done through a blood sample. A vaccine is available to prevent infection with hepatitis B; however, there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C infection. Many people infected with hepatitis recover completely, though some develop chronic liver infections, which can lead to long-term health problems. A novel treatment has recently been developed for the treatment of people with chronic Hepatitis C.
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Fortunately rates of HIV in the population remain low overall, but the rate of HIV infection is increasing most rapidly among women who have sex with men. Having other STDs like gonorrhea, syphilis, and genital herpes can increase the likelihood of acquiring HIV from an infected partner.
HIV can be transmitted through:
- Vaginal, anal, and in some cases oral sexual contact
- Sharing needles with an infected person
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Once HIV is in your blood, it invades and kills cells of your immune system, your body’s natural defense against disease. Once infected, you may have no symptoms for many years, yet HIV continues to weaken your immune system. Eventually the virus develops into AIDS, a condition in which your immune system is so weakened that other life-threatening conditions, such as infections or cancer, can occur.
Although there is no cure for HIV or AIDS, there have been recent advances in medications that can slow the disease in most people. It is important to be tested any time you take part in sexual activity you consider to be risky.
Speak to Raleigh Gynecology For More Information
Many times STD’s can go unnoticed for a while before symptoms begin to appear. It is important to get tested for STD’s, especially before engaging in sexual contact with a new partner. To book an appointment for STD testing, call us at 919.636.6670 or schedule an appointment online.