As of 2018, STDs are on the rise, especially among women. Combined cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis have reached an all-time high, and many women don’t even realize they are infected because they don’t have any symptoms.
Why should you care if you don’t have symptoms? Because symptom-free doesn’t mean consequence-free. Sexually transmitted diseases can cause great harm to your health and fertility if they aren’t treated.
What Causes STDs and How Can I Contract Them?
STDs are caused by harmful microorganisms called pathogens. When these pathogens spread from sexual human contact, infections can occur (whether known or unknown). Vaginal, oral, and anal sex with an infected partner, as well as the use of an infected object, can all lead to you personally getting infected. You can learn more about this in greater detail in our Sexually Transmitted Diseases blog.
The Most Common STDs that Women Can Have
There are over 20 known STDs that can affect women and their reproductive health, but we’ll cover the most common ones. Some are usually symptom-free, while others typically show symptoms. We’ll take a look at both types so you know warning signs and symptoms to look out for.
Typically Symptom-Free STDs to Be Aware of
When it comes to (mostly) symptom-free STDs, there are certain lifestyle and sexual choices that can be warning signs that you may be at risk of having them. These are the types of STDs that you’ll want to get tested for even if you aren’t showing symptoms. A test is recommended if you have any of the warning signs, and a yearly test for screening even if you are symptom free.
Chlamydia is most common in women with multiple sex partners (warning sign). Most women are usually unaware that they have chlamydia, but without treatment, their fertility can be harmed.
Chlamydia is caused by Chlamydia trachomatis- a bacterium. It infects the cervix, rectum, and throat in its early stages. In its later stages, it can spread to the fallopian tubes and uterus. This widespread infection is then known as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can cause infertility and increase pregnancy complications. This type of infection if active or not treated, can also be passed on to your baby during childbirth, which can lead to possible pneumonia or other life-threatening health problems.
Chlamydia can be treated with antibiotics, and if treated early, a woman shouldn’t experience any lasting complications from it.
Hepatitis C is caused by a viral infection due to sexual contact, contact with infected blood, shared needles, and nonsterile tattooing needles (warning signs). Roughly 3.5 million Americans have Hepatitis C and don’t know it. It’s typically symptom-free, but can lead to serious liver damage if it’s not caught in time.
Antiviral medications are the treatment of choice for Hepatitis C, and for most people it is curable as long as it’s caught before irreversible liver damage has occurred.
STDs with Identifiable Symptoms
STDs with symptoms are much easier to identify when you have them. If you have any of the symptoms, you should see your doctor right away to prevent further harm to your body.
Gonorrhea affected over 580,000 Americans in 2018 and is a common bacterial infection. It affects your mouth, vagina, and anus, typically with mild symptoms in its early stages. As it progressively gets worse, symptoms to look out for include abnormal bleeding, painful urination, and yellow or green vaginal discharge.
Gonorrhea can spread to babies during birth, possibly causing eye infections, blindness, and other serious health problems.
Most cases of Gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics, although some strains have developed a resistance to them. Due to this unfortunate development, you may need repeated tests and treatment if you contract Gonorrhea.
Syphilis is also caused by bacterial infection, affecting a woman’s vagina, anus, lips, and mouth. In the early stages, it can typically be identified by painless sores around the vagina or anus. Sometimes they occur inside your body and may only be discovered by an annual exam with your gynecologist.
As Syphilis progresses and you enter the secondary Syphilis stage, you become highly contagious. At this stage, you’ll most likely develop flu like symptoms and a rash. The disappearance of these symptoms, unfortunately, doesn’t mean that your Syphilis has cleared up.
Syphilis won’t go away without medical care and antibiotics. Without treatment, it can lead to blindness, pregnancy complications, and even paralysis.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
HIV is a very serious and potentially fatal infection that doesn’t currently have a cure. It spreads from sexual contact, infected needles, and (rarely) through blood transfusions (warning signs).
HIV is hard to identify in its early stages unless you are tested for it. It takes a long time (sometimes years) for symptoms to present themselves, but when they do appear they can include:
- Night sweats
- Unexplained weight loss
- Frequent infections
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Flu-like symptoms
Without treatment, HIV can be fatal. And although there isn’t currently a cure, medication can be given to help those with HIV live longer and healthier lives.
Herpes tends to be one of those STDs that people joke about, but in reality, it’s very serious because it isn’t curable and those who have it suffer.
Herpes is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) and typically results in cold sores around the mouth or genitals (depending on which strain you have). It can result in painful blisters around your vagina, sores around your anus that itch, tingle or ooze fluid, and may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms.
Although it isn’t curable, Herpes can be controlled by medication that reduces your risk of outbreaks and heals existing sores. Your doctor will prescribe you medication that can also lower your risk of spreading it to others.
Do You Need to Be Tested?
You may or may not need to be tested, but if it’s been more than a year since you’ve seen your gynecologist or you have some of the warning signs or symptoms of STDs, it may be wise to schedule a visit to your gynecologist and at least talk it over with them. They’ll then be able to determine whether or not testing is necessary in your case.
If you are in need of a gynecologist you can trust and who will make you feel comfortable, we can get you in to see one of ours! Schedule an appointment today.