If you have sex — oral, anal or vaginal intercourse and genital touching — you can get an STD, also called a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Straight or gay, married or single, you’re vulnerable to STIs and STI symptoms. Thinking or hoping your partner doesn’t have an STI is no protection — you need to know for sure. And although condoms are highly effective for reducing transmission of some STDs, no method is foolproof.
Sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, can be painful and embarrassing. Unfortunately, they are also a common occurrence, especially when safe-sex precautions are not taken. Even when such precautions are observed, STDs such as HPV can still be spread.
STI symptoms aren’t always obvious. If you think you have STI symptoms or have been exposed to an STI, see a doctor. Some STIs are easy to treat and cure; others require more-complicated treatment to manage them.
It’s essential to be evaluated, and — if diagnosed with an STI — get treated. It’s also essential to inform your partner or partners so that they can be evaluated and treated.
If untreated, STIs can increase your risk of acquiring another STI such as HIV. This happens because an STI can stimulate an immune response in the genital area or cause sores, either of which might raise the risk of HIV transmission. Some untreated STIs can also lead to infertility.
STIs often asymptomatic
STIs often have no signs or symptoms (asymptomatic). Even with no symptoms, however, you can pass the infection to your sex partners. So it’s important to use protection, such as a condom, during sex. And visit your doctor regularly for STI screening, so you can identify and treat an infection before you can pass it on.
Some of the following diseases, such as hepatitis, can be transmitted without sexual contact, by coming into contact with an infected person’s blood. Others, such as gonorrhea, can only be transmitted through sexual contact.
- Caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis.
- Currently, the most commonly reported infectious disease in the United States as well as the leading cause of infertility and ectopic pregnancy.
- Chlamydia is predominantly asymptomatic in both women and men. If symptoms do occur, they include abnormal discharge, burning with urination, and abdominal pain.
- Uncomplicated chlamydia can be effectively treated with antibiotics. Partner treatment and risk reduction education (e.g. about condom use) are needed to reduce the risk of re-infection.
- Undetected and untreated chlamydia can result in pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and ectopic pregnancy in women; neonatal pneumonia and conjunctivitis in newborns; and epididymitis, (a painful condition of the testes that can lead to infertility if left untreated), prostatitis, urethritis, and reactive arthritis in men.
- The current recommendation is that sexually active women younger than 25 years of age be screened for chlamydia annually, particularly because up to 90% of women with chlamydia are asymptomatic.
Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection of your genital tract. It can also grow in your mouth, throat, eyes and anus. The first gonorrhea symptoms generally appear within 10 days after exposure. However, some people may be infected for months before signs or symptoms occur.
Signs and symptoms of gonorrhea may include:
- Thick, cloudy or bloody discharge from the penis or vagina
- Pain or burning sensation when urinating
- Heavy menstrual bleeding or bleeding between periods
- Painful, swollen testicles
- Painful bowel movements
- Anal itching
- Caused by genital tract protozoan Trichomonas vaginales.
- Infection occurs in both men and women, though symptoms are more common in women.
- About half of trichomoniasis infections are asymptomatic. If symptoms are present they include: frothy greenish-yellow vaginal discharge with a strong odor and/or vaginal itching and inflammation.
- Untreated infection in pregnant women is associated with an increased risk of low birth weight and premature birth.
- Diagnosed by wet mount (examination of vaginal fluids microscopically).
- Treated with Metronidazole.
- Correct and consistent condom use reduces the risk of transmission.
Vaginal Yeast Infection
- Caused by fungus Candida albicans.
- Usually not a sexually transmitted infection
- Yeast infections are asymptomatic in about 10-15% of women. If there are symptoms they include inflammation, vaginal itching or discomfort, and/or white thick discharge.
- Increased incidence among women during pregnancy, diabetes, or following antibiotic administration.
HIV is an infection with the human immunodeficiency virus. HIV interferes with your body’s ability to fight off viruses, bacteria and fungi that cause illness, and it can lead to AIDS, a chronic, life-threatening disease.
When first infected with HIV, you may have no symptoms. Some people develop a flu-like illness, usually two to six weeks after being infected. Still, the only way you know if you have HIV is to be tested.
Early signs and symptoms
Early HIV signs and symptoms may include:
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph glands
These early signs and symptoms usually disappear within a week to a month and are often mistaken for those of another viral infection. During this period, you’re highly infectious. More-persistent or -severe symptoms of HIV infection may not appear for 10 years or more after the initial infection.
As the virus continues to multiply and destroy immune cells, you may develop mild infections or chronic signs and symptoms such as:
- Swollen lymph nodes — often one of the first signs of HIV infection
- Weight loss
- Cough and shortness of breath
- Late-stage HIV infection
Signs and symptoms of late-stage HIV infection include:
- Persistent, unexplained fatigue
- Soaking night sweats
- Shaking chills or fever higher than 100.4 F (38 C) for several weeks
- Swelling of lymph nodes for more than three months
- Chronic diarrhea
- Persistent headaches
- Unusual, opportunistic infections
Herpes (HSV) (Herpes Simplex Virus).
- Genital ulcer infection caused by the HSV. There are two types: HSV-1 and HSV-2. Most cases of genital herpes are caused by HSV-2.
- Approximately 200,000 people (1 in 5 adults) have a primary outbreak of or are affected by symptomatic herpes each year, and approximately 45 million Americans are infected.
- Causes painful genital ulcers.
- In most cases, herpes is transmitted by people who are unaware they are infected.
- Correct and consistent use of condoms reduces the risk of transmitting HSV, but does not eliminate it, as herpes can be passed through sexual contact with areas not covered by a condom, even without intercourse.
Antiviral treatments help to decrease the symptoms and shorten or prevent outbreaks, but they do not “cure” the infection. Currently, Valtrex® is the primary medication prescribed to reduce duration and discomfort of herpes symptoms.
- If active herpes infection is present near the time of delivery, a pregnant woman can transmit the virus to her baby during a vaginal delivery. Cesarean-sections are usually recommended if active infection is present.
Herpes may increase the risk of HIV transmission.
If you’re afraid you might have an STD, consider these seven warning signs:
- Painful urination
Open sores or bumps near the mouth or genitals
Unusual discharge from the genitals/Unusual odor
Itching or swelling in the genital area
Changes in menstruation
High fever, fatigue, nausea
These can all be symptoms of an STD. It’s especially significant that no. 7 (symptoms of general illness) can indicate an STD, so if you feel as if you might be coming down with something shortly after having unprotected sex, don’t assume that it’s just a common cold.
If you believe you might have an STD, you should make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. Although regular STD testing and safer sex can help protect you from contracting such a disease, the truth is that STDs can happen to anyone who has sex — even if it’s that persons’ first time. With knowledge and education, however, you can help protect yourself and your partner.
For more information on STD symptoms, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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