Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Symptoms & Causes

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An introduction to the Sexually transmitted diseases


Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections happens due to the bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, and/or prions that are passed from person-to-person via sexual contact. STDs are generally spread through vaginal, anal, oral, or penile penetration. The term STD includes both sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and reproductive tract infections (RTIs). An STD may not cause any symptoms, however, some STDs can lead to serious complications, including infertility, ectopic pregnancy, pelvic inflammatory disease, chronic pain, and even death.

The first symptom of STDs is often painless genital ulcers. These sores may appear anywhere on the body, including the mouth, throat, rectum, vagina, penis, anus, eyes, ears, and skin. Other symptoms include fever, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, muscle aches, headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills, sore throat, cough, and loss of appetite.

Diagnosis of sexually transmitted diseases
A doctor can diagnose STDs using a physical exam, blood tests, and sometimes urine tests. A physical exam includes checking for any lesions, bumps, lumps, rashes, or sores. Blood tests check for antibodies, white blood cells, and red blood cells. Urine tests look at the amount of bacteria present in the urine.

What are the various types of sexually transmitted diseases?


There are many different types of STDs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, trichomoniasis, human papilloma virus (HPV), genital warts, and others.

  • Chlamydia is the most commonly reported bacterial infection among women ages 15–24 years old. In 2017, approximately 1.8 million cases were diagnosed in the United States. Chlamydia is often asymptomatic, meaning people do not experience any symptoms. But some symptoms include burning while urinating, painful intercourse, and discharge from the penis or vagina.  However, if left untreated, chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can result in severe complications, including ectopic pregnancy, chronic pelvic pain, and infertility.
  • Gonorrhea is the second most frequently reported bacterial infection among women. Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics, but without treatment, gonorrhea can cause PID, which can lead to infertility. It is a bacterial infection spread via sexual contact. It causes inflammation of the mucous membranes of the genitals and rectum. Symptoms include burning while peeing, painful intercourse, and bleeding after sex. Untreated gonorrhea can cause serious complications including sterility, ectopic pregnancy, and blindness.
  • Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum subspecies pertenue. Symptoms include sores around the mouth, nose, anus, and genitals; swollen lymph nodes; and fever. Syphilis is a bacterial infection that affects the skin, mucous membranes, bones, heart, brain, eyes, and joints. Syphilis was once thought to be a rare disease, but today, it is estimated that about 2.5 million Americans have active syphilis. Untreated syphilis can lead to blindness, cardiovascular problems, dementia, paralysis, and death.
  • HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is a retrovirus that attacks the immune system, causing AIDS. People infected with HIV cannot fight off infections. In addition to being a risk factor for developing AIDS, HIV can pass from mother to child during childbirth. There are two strains of HIV—HIV-1 and HIV-2. Both are highly contagious. If someone who is infected with HIV does not receive proper medical care, they can pass the virus along to their sex partners.
  • Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is a virus that causes cold sores and fever blisters. HSV-1 and HSV-2 are two strains of the same virus. HSV-1 is responsible for 90% of all cold sore outbreaks. HSV-2 is less common than HSV-1, but it is still prevalent.
  • Trichomoniasis is a parasitic infection that occurs when a man ejaculates into his partner’s vagina. Trichomoniasis is also known as “trich” or “tricho”. Symptoms include burning while urinating, painful urination, frequent urination, and blood in urine.
  • Human papilloma virus (also called HPV) is a virus that can cause genital warts. Genital warts are small bumps on the genitals. Most people get them at birth, but they can also appear later in life. Genital warts can last for months or years. Genital warts are not dangerous, but they can make intercourse uncomfortable. Genital warts may also increase the risk of cervical cancer.
  • Hepatitis A, B, and C are liver infections. Hepatitis A and B are viral infections that affect the liver. Hepatitis A is usually milder than hepatitis B. Hepatitis C is a bloodborne virus that can cause inflammation of the liver.
  • Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by hepatitis A virus (HAV). HAV is transmitted through contaminated food and water. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, yellowing of the skin or eyes, and jaundice.
  • Infertility is defined as being unable to conceive after 12 months of unprotected sex. Infertility affects nearly 10% of couples in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Infertility is most likely to occur in women between the ages of 30 and 39.
  • Infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the leading cause of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV infects cells of the body’s immune system, causing these cells to become weak and die off. As the number of CD4+ T cells decreases, the body becomes more susceptible to infections and cancers.

What are the treatment options available for Sexually Transmitted Diseases?


Treatment options vary depending on what type of STD you have. Most people who get treated for STDs go through a series of antibiotics. There are also some over-the-counter medications that help treat STDs.

For HIV/AIDS: In order to treat AIDS, HIV levels need to be kept under control since it is not curable. HIV infection is treated with antiretroviral drugs, and usually several drugs are prescribed, called a “cocktail.” When to begin antiretroviral therapy for HIV is still debated. There are doctors who believe early treatment is critical for better management of the HIV virus, while others believe waiting is better since drugs may cause unpleasant side effects and drug resistance may develop. When should you begin antiretroviral therapy? Consult your doctor.

For Gonorrhea: There are antibiotics available for treating these STDs. Even if you don’t have symptoms, you should take them if tests reveal you have chlamydia or gonorrhea, or if you have been exposed to them. It is important to treat your sexual partners regardless of whether they are exhibiting symptoms. You may need to take more than one antibiotic to treat gonorrhea, as some strains have become resistant to some antibiotics. Ensure that your partner seeks treatment as well. Even if your partner has been treated, you should retest after three months to ensure that the infection has been cleared. Chlamydia or gonorrhea can permanently damage reproductive organs and make it impossible for you to become pregnant if chlamydia or gonorrhea are left untreated.

Syphilis: The most effective treatment for syphilis is penicillin. It is very important to treat the disease early in order to prevent the bacteria from spreading and damaging other organs.

The bottom line,

A virus-related STI can be treated, complication-free, or have poor outcomes depending on which virus it is (HIV, herpes genitalis, human papillomavirus, hepatitis, or cytomegalovirus). Most of these infections can be treated to reduce the symptoms and progression of their progression.
It is possible to reduce the likelihood that the virus will spread to others by using medications that limit the frequency and severity of genital herpes outbreaks.

Taking antiretroviral drugs is necessary for people with HIV in order to control their viral load. People can live longer, healthier lives with these drugs, called highly active antiretroviral therapy1 (HAART), which prevents HIV transmission to others. Additionally, these medicines can reduce the possibility that a fetus or infant will contract HIV if a woman with HIV becomes pregnant.

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