Sexually transmitted diseases

Overview

STDs are infections derived from any type of sexual contact, including oral, vaginal or anal intercourse. Common types of STDs include human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), human papillomavirus (HPV), chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital herpes and syphilis. The best preventative measures include abstaining from sexual activity, using condoms, having regular checkups and remaining educated on STD symptoms. 

Causes and risk factors

There are several common causes and risk factors associated with STDs:

  • Having multiple sex partners
  • Illegal drug use (specifically sharing needles)
  • Unprotected sex
  • A history of STIs

Types

Some of the most common STDs include:

  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) — HIV is a virus that spreads through fluids. The virus attacks your T cells, the cells that help your immune system fight off infections. Over the course of time, HIV can attack so many cells that it renders your body unable to fight off infections or diseases. If left untreated, HIV can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) — There are over 100 types of HPV. Some types of HPV can produce warts on your feet or hands, while others can infect the genital areas. Some infections go away within 8 to 13 months, while others remain in the body. Some strains of HPV in women can lead to cervical cancer.
  • Chlamydia — One of the most common STDs, chlamydia is caused by infection with Chlamydia trachomatis. Chlamydia can infect genital areas, the rectum or the throat. If you are pregnant, you should be screened for chlamydia as the disease can infect your baby and lead to birth complications such as ectopic pregnancy.
  • Gonorrhea — A highly contagious disease, Gonorrhea is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae, a bacterium that grows in the mucus membranes of warm, moist areas of the body. Gonorrhea can infect the reproductive tract, particularity the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes and the urethra, in addition to the mouth, throat and anus. If you are pregnant, you should be screened for gonorrhea as this disease could infect your baby and lead to birth complications.
  • Genital herpes — Genital herpes is a common STD caused by two viruses: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Passed through sexual contact, the virus can be inactive, meaning there would be no present symptoms. However, you may suffer from outbreaks of blisters and ulcers. Once infected, the condition is irreversible. If you are pregnant and have genital herpes, you should ask your doctor about any possible preventative measures, as it can be passed to your child through birth.
  • Syphilis — A highly contagious STD spread primarily through sexual contact and, in some cases, close bodily contact. It is caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum, and the infection has several stages: primary, secondary, latent and late. During the primary stage, you may notice painless sores. If left untreated, the disease moves onto the secondary stage where skin rashes appear on one or more areas of the body. This rash can be irritating or faint and unnoticeable. During latent and late stages, you could suffer from mental disorders, numbness or paralysis. If you are diagnosed with syphilis during pregnancy, you should seek immediate treatment as it can have negative effects on the health of both you and your baby.

Symptoms

STD symptoms can vary depending on the infection. While some STDs may be asymptomatic, common symptoms can include:

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV):

  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Aching muscles
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Aching muscles

Human papillomavirus (HPV):

  • Genital warts

Chlamydia:

  • Abnormal discharge
  • Burning sensation during urination
  • Rectal pain/discharge/bleeding

Gonorrhea:

  • Abnormal discharge
  • Burning during urination
  • Burning in throat
  • Swollen genitals

Genital herpes

  • Genital sores
  • Itching
  • Fever
  • Body aches

Diagnosis and testing

Typically, your doctor will diagnose STDs through tests such as:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine samples
  • Fluid samples

STD testing and screening is vital especially if you’ve had unprotected sex, a new partner or are sexually active.

Treatment options

Typically, depending on the specific infection, your doctor will administer antibiotics. Some STDs, such as genital herpes, can be managed through medication but are not curable.