Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are becoming increasingly common. Both men and women – gay or straight – may be vulnerable to STDs when they engage in vaginal, oral or anal sex. It’s important to know about some of the most common STDs, including how to recognize and treat them.
Chlamydia is an infection of the genital tract. It is one of the more difficult STDs to detect because there are often no symptoms in the earliest stages of the disease. The following are some of the key symptoms of chlamydia:
- Vaginal discharge or discharge from the penis
- Pain during intercourse
- Painful urination
- Lower abdominal pain
- Testicular pain
One positive thing about this STD is that it can be easily cured with antibiotics when treated promptly. Unfortunately, chlamydia can be very harmful if left untreated. It is one of the most common causes of infertility and could also cause problems during pregnancy or pelvic inflammatory disease.
Genital herpes is a highly contagious form of the herpes simplex virus. It can enter the body through small breaks in mucous membranes or the skin. Signs and symptoms are often absent or hard to notice. However, when symptoms do occur, they manifest in the following ways:
- Pain or itching in the genital area, inner thighs or buttocks
- Small red bumps, blisters or open sores in the genital area
While some people have regular outbreaks of bumps or sores, most people with herpes generally don’t experience recurrent outbreaks. However, those with herpes are still capable of spreading the disease to others. In fact, herpes is most commonly spread when someone with the disease isn’t having a symptomatic outbreak. Herpes can’t be cured, but there are treatments to reduce symptoms and the risk of spreading the disease.
HPV (Genital Warts)
Along with herpes and chlamydia, HPV is one of the top three most common STDs. The human papillomavirus (HPV) causes genital warts. The symptoms of this STD include:
- Itching or discomfort in the genital area
- Small, flesh-colored or gray warts in the genital area (which sometimes form in clusters)
- Bleeding during intercourse
Most strains of HPV are harmless, but some can cause cervical cancer. The good news is that there is actually a vaccine for HPV – females ages 9 to 26 are approved to get the vaccine. For more information, read HPV Vaccine (Human Papillomavirus Vaccination).
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a severe STD which can compromise the body’s ability to fight off viruses. The initial symptoms of HIV include:
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph glands
It’s possible to mistake the early symptoms of HIV for those of another health issue. However, more severe symptoms can appear years after the initial infection. Medications are available to treat an HIV infection by reducing symptoms and the ability to transmit HIV. Sadly, HIV may lead to AIDS, a chronic and life-threatening disease.
This STD is a bacterial infection of the genital tract. Symptoms of this STD include:
- Pain or burning when urinating
- Painful bowel movements
- Thick, bloody or cloudy discharge from the vagina or penis
- Itching in and around the anus
- Painful, swollen testicles
- Abnormal menstrual bleeding
Gonorrhea can be successfully treated with antibiotics. However, when left untreated this STD may lead to serious health issues, including infertility, joint problems, blood infections or chronic pain.
It’s possible to get one of three hepatitis strains (A, B or C). All of these are contagious and all of them affect the liver, though hepatitis B and hepatitis C are more severe. Symptoms of hepatitis include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal discomfort, particularly on the right side of the body
- Dark urine
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle or joint pain
Hepatitis can be treated with certain medications. Fortunately, there are also vaccines available to prevent the spread of this STD.
This is a bacterial infection that affects the genitals, skin and mucous membranes. The symptoms of syphilis include:
- A small sore in the area where the infection was transmitted
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Rash appearing as small reddish-brown sores
Syphilis can easily be cured in the early stages with antibiotics. However, when left untreated this STD may have serious side effects, including stroke, meningitis, paralysis, hearing or vision problems, dementia, valvular heart disease or aneurysm.
The best way to prevent the spread of STDs is to practice safe sex with condoms, though it’s important to remember that condoms are not 100% effective in preventing STDs. Even better, get tested and inform your sexual partners if you do have an STD. In many cases, you can treat and control your symptoms, but it’s still important to be vigilant about preventing the spread of STDs.