A sexually transmitted disease (STD) is an illness that has a significant probability of transmission between humans by means of sexual behavior.
There are numerous sexually transmitted diseases and the consequences of untreated sexually transmitted diseases can be very serious for women. Untreated STDs can lead to chronic pelvic pain, loss of fertility, or even death. Early identification and treatment results in less chance to spread disease, and for some conditions may improve the outcomes of treatment.
Not all STDs are symptomatic. Symptoms may also not appear immediately after infection. In some instances a disease can be carried with no symptoms, which leaves a greater risk of passing the disease on to others.
Most Common STDs include:
- Chlamydia trachomatis is the most common sexually transmitted disease in North America. Caused by bacteria, it results in a genital infection and must be treated with antibiotics. It can lead to chronic pelvic pain and infertility if not treated with antibiotics because it can spread to other pelvic organs. Your sexual partner will need to be treated also.
- Herpes genitalis is another common STD. It is a viral infection and doesn’t lead to chronic pelvic pain or infertility, but it can cause a very painful and disturbing genital blisters. Often the woman with herpes also will experience flu-like feelings or a headache, or swollen glands. Antiviral medications can be prescribed that will reduce pain and discomfort. There is no cure for the infection itself, although it may be dormant indefinitely.
- Venereal or genital warts (also called condyloma accuminata) are caused by a virus. They also can cause abnormal pap smears. Creams and some other medicines can cause the warty tissue to disappear but the warts may recur.
- Gonorrhea is another common STD. It is caused by bacteria and can be treated with an antibiotic. The woman and her partner both need to be treated. Women often don’t have symptoms but a vaginal discharge or painful urination may occur. Men are more likely to have discharge and painful urination. Untreated, gonorrhea can spread to other parts of the body and cause serious complications.
- Trichomonas may cause a woman to experience foul discharge and extreme itching. It can be treated with antibiotic. Partners need to be treated too.
- Syphilis is not as common as the above diseases but can have very serious consequences for women and their babies. It can cause a painless ulcer, but often there will be no obvious symptoms. Syphilis is caused by bacteria and can be treated by antibiotics. The woman and her partner need to be treated.
- HIV/AIDS are viral infections that can be transmitted sexually, from mother to baby during birth, or through infected blood. There are presently no cures for these diseases, but they can be managed with antivirals and other medications. HIV/AIDS can destroy a person’s natural disease resistance system leaving him or her vulnerable to a number of different conditions.
- Hepatitis B is a viral infection that can be transmitted sexually, from mother to baby during birth, or through infected blood. There is presently no cure for this disease but it can be managed with antivirals and other medicines. Hepatitis B is a serious liver disease. Vaccine is available to prevent contracting Hepatitis B, which can also be transmitted via infected blood.
If you’re concerned that you may have contracted or been exposed to an STD, you will need an examination. The doctor will examine the vagina, cervix and pelvic organs and use swabs to take cell samples to determine if an STD is present. Several tests may be necessary, as many of the STDs can occur at the same time. Results may take several days, but treatment can often be started at the first visit.
After initial infection, there is often a time frame during which an STD test will be negative. During this period the infection may be transmissible. The duration of this period varies depending on the infection and the test.
- Antibiotic and antiviral medications can be given to treat gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, syphilis and trichomonas.
- Genital warts can be treated in the gynecologist’s office or at home.
- HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B will require referral to specialists for evaluation.