During unprotected sexual contact, people have the risk of catching a sexually transmitted disease, or STD, from their partner – and it is not at all uncommon. Every day around the world, more than one million people develop an STD, according to the World Health Organization, and most of them don’t even realize it for some time afterward.
Since these infections do not cause immediate symptoms, people may spread the disease even further before realizing they have a problem. Without treatment, these infections have the potential to impact health and wellbeing for life, also potentially causing infertility or death.
With a clear understanding of what STDs to watch for and their most common symptoms, it is possible to prevent these infections from spreading and worsening over time. Using protection during any sexual contact is the best first line of defense, of course, but knowledge is a close second. Here’s what you need to know.
What is an STD, and Is It Different from an STI?
In the past, STDs were regularly referred to as sexually transmitted infections or STIs. Technically, a virus means that the symptoms of a disease are not present during diagnosis, so the terms sound a little less dire in common parlance. Still, in medicine, it also serves to include a broader range of conditions. Today, the two terms are used somewhat interchangeably to represent the 30-plus conditions transmitted through sexual contact. These conditions are caused by viruses, bacteria, and even parasites found on the skin, in the blood, and vaginal or seminal fluid.
During unprotected sexual contact, people can pass these pathogens to each other without realizing it. If the pathogens are in the blood, even connection with blood products can transmit the infection. The infections can also pass from mother to child, potentially causing serious health repercussions for both.
Most Common Sexually-Transmitted Diseases
Across the many different types of STDs, there are both curable and incurable infections. Of the most common types, medical professionals can effectively diagnose and cure gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis (or “trich”). These infections respond favorably to treatment, especially when detected before complications arise.
Of the incurable types, the most common ones are:
- Herpes simplex virus
- Hepatitis B
Although these cannot be cured at present, their diagnosis can help keep your future partners safe from transmission and allow you to seek treatment. The treatment process cannot eliminate these viral infections from your system, but it can slow the disease progression and reduce symptoms.
Three Signs You Might Have an STD
Although most STDs do not cause any symptoms at first, as the infection worsens, noticeable issues could develop. The three most common signs include:
Abnormal discharge from the vagina or penis can indicate that you have caught an STD and may need treatment. It could also point to the development of a urinary tract infection – which also requires medical treatment. Any discharge from the penis is a cause for concern, but especially so if it is yellow, green, or tinged with blood. Vaginal discharge caused by STDs may also be green or yellow, though any abnormalities are worth mentioning to a medical professional.
Genital ulcers typically appear as sores, blisters, and other lesions that may cause pain or even ooze fluid. They are commonly directly on the penis or vagina, though they can also affect the skin in and around the anus. At first, these ulcers may look like small bumps or a rash that tends to worsen rather quickly in the following days. You may also notice swelling in the lymph nodes in your groin area, indicating the development of an infection. Fevers are also familiar with STDs that cause these ulcers.
Pain in the abdominal area commonly occurs with many different kinds of STDs, including gonorrhea and chlamydia. The pain is usually referred to as a cramping sensation and typically arises as the infection goes untreated for an extended period. Burning and other discomfort during urination is also commonly noted in people with untreated STDs. When these symptoms arise, in a woman, it can indicate that reproductive organs may have been damaged by the infection, requiring prompt medical care.
Anytime you notice these three symptoms or any other issues, you can receive prompt care at your medical facility of choice, including urgent care centers, which typically test for STDs, and also provide treatment as needed to control symptoms, halt disease progression, or cure the infection.
Types of Treatment for STDs
Depending on the diagnosed STD, medical professionals can offer several treatments that help keep symptoms at bay and prevent complications. Curable STDs can often be resolved with a single dose of strong antibiotics that target the bacteria or parasites, causing the infection. For incurable conditions, however, medical professionals may prescribe antiviral medications to control symptoms and to slow disease progression.
In the end, the only surefire way to know if you have an STD is to have a test performed by a qualified facility. As Dr. Gregory Blomquist, Chief Medical Officer at Community Med urgent care clinic in Arlington, Texas, advises: “With any condition, it always pays to get diagnosis and treatment as quickly as possible.” So if you notice any symptoms or if you have had unprotected sexual contact and want to make sure, don’t hesitate to seek diagnosis.