Sexually transmitted diseases

Sexually transmitted diseases, also called STDs or sexually transmitted infections, are infections caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites transmitted through sexual encounters.

Today, there are more than 20 types of known STDs, some with a long list of serious symptoms and consequences, including cancer, infertility in women, and even the possibility of death.

Common STDs

There is a wide range of the sexually transmitted diseases list.

Chlamydia is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis, which infects the urinary tract in both men and women. Symptoms include painful urination and pain in the lower abdomen. In women, Chlamydia can cause pain during intercourse and vaginal discharge. Men have a discharge from the penis and testicular pain.

Gonorrhea is caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhea and can infect the genital tract, mouth, and rectum of both men and women. Symptoms include a thick, cloudy, or bloody discharge from the penis or vagina, pain or burning sensations when urinating, frequent urination, and pain during sexual intercourse.

Syphilis comes from a spiral shaped bacteria called Treponema pallidum. It appears with one or more lesions or ulcers around the genital area. Syphilis can be dormant for up to seven years between active outbreaks. Taking penicillin or a similar antibiotic can cure syphilis, however, if left untreated syphilis can cause severe complications including death.

Trichomoniasis is caused by the single cell protozoa Trichomonas vaginalis. This disease affects both men and women, but most symptoms are found in women and include vaginal discharge, itching or irritation, pain during sexual intercourse, painful urination, and light vaginal bleeding.

Genital Herpes is a result of the Herpes Simplex virus. The signs of infection appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals or rectum. These blister form small, fluid-filled clusters that break open, leaving painful sores.

Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, is a viral infection that can appear in the mouth, throat, or genital areas of both men and women. In ninety percent of cases, there are no outward symptoms. However, the disease can also manifest itself as warts on the genitals, or more rarely, in the throat. Certain strains of HPV can result in potentially life threatening cancers.

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the Hepatitis B virus. It is considered life threatening, and, if untreated, can cause chronic liver disease. Common symptoms include fever, fatigue, muscle or joint pain, loss of appetite, and mild nausea and vomiting. Serious symptoms that require immediate medical attention and possibly hospitalization include severe nausea and vomiting, yellow eyes and skin ("jaundice"), and a bloated or swollen stomach.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is caused by Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) which progressively damages the immune system and makes the body vulnerable to infections. It might take years for HIV to permanently damage the immune system and develop into full blown AIDS. Early symptoms include fever, headache, sore throat, swollen lymph glands, rashes, and fatigue. Once these early signs disappear, chronic symptoms may appear, such as diarrhea, weight loss, fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Symptoms in the later stages of HIV include fatigue, sweating at night, continued chills or fever, swelling of the lymph nodes for more than three months, chronic diarrhea, and continued headaches. There is no cure for AIDS, however there are ways to manage the disease so people stay healthier and live longer.

A few STD symptoms in men are:

  • Painful urination
  • Testicular pain in men
  • Discharge from the penis

A few signs of STD in women are:

  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Pain during intercourse

If you are concerned that you might have an STD, consult with your doctor immediately. Be honest and direct with your doctor. While this may be an unpleasant or awkward conversation to have, there are serious risks and consequences to delaying treatment of an STD.

Causes for concern might include any of the symptoms listed above, a personal history of sexual encounters that could be considered high risk, or partners who have displayed any symptoms of having a sexually transmitted disease. A doctor will be able to give a specific diagnosis and treatment, as well as provide support options for dealing with the disease.

The doctor or healthcare provider may order some laboratory tests to help diagnose the cause of any symptoms or infections. Most tests will collect blood samples, but sometimes testing fluids from active sores or scrapings may be necessary. Testing discharge may also be required for a confirmed diagnosis.

Most infections from bacteria or parasites will need antibiotic treatments. Viral STD infections are not curable, but can be effectively controlled through vaccines. HIV infections are managed through antiviral and antiretroviral drugs which can lead to an improved quality of life.

Each year, millions of new cases of sexually transmitted diseases are reported, yet STDs can easily be avoided. Some lifestyles can increase the odds of being exposed to an STD. These include being sexually active at an early age, lowering inhibitions by abusing alcohol and illegal drugs, and living in a community with a high rate of STDs because your risk of exposure goes up.

Safety tips include avoiding unprotected sex, not engaging in sex with multiple partners, and staying away from risky sexual practices. Of course, the only sure way to avoid an STD is to not have sex.

When engaging in oral, vaginal, or anal sex, always use latex condoms. Avoid condoms lubricated with spermicides because frequent use of some spermicides can increase the risk of HIV. And be aware that you can take vaccines to prevent STD infections such as hepatitis B and Human Papillomavirus, or HPV.