BREAKING - Everything You Need to Know About Sexually Transmitted Diseases

 Often confused, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexually transmitted

diseases (STDs) aren’t actually the same thing.

Often confused, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) aren’t actually the same thing.

An infection —which is when bacteria, viruses, or parasites attack the body —comes before a disease.

And while an infection may result in zero symptoms, a disease usually always comes with clear signs.

Now you know the difference between the two, here’s the lowdown on the types of STDs that currently exist, how to treat them, and, most importantly, how to prevent them.

If an STD starts with a symptomatic STI, you might first experience:

  • pain or discomfort during sexual activity or urination
  • sores, bumps, or rashes on or around the vagina, penis, testicles, anus, buttocks, thighs, or mouth
  • unusual discharge or bleeding from the penis or vagina
  • painful or swollen testicles
  • itchiness in or around the vagina
  • unexpected periods or bleeding after sexual activity

But remember that not all STIs have symptoms. 

If an STI progresses to an STD, symptoms can vary. Some of them may be similar to the above, such as pain during sexual activity, pain during urination, and irregular or painful periods. 

But other symptoms can be quite different and depend on the STD. They can include:

All STDs are caused by an STI. 

These infections are usually transmitted through sexual contactTrusted Source, including through bodily fluids or skin contact via vaginal, oral, and anal sex.

Some of them never become a disease, especially if they’re treated, and they can even go away on their own.

But if the pathogens that caused the infection end up damaging cells in the body and disrupting its functions, an STI will progress to an STD

While the list of STIs is pretty lengthy, there are fewer STDs. 

They range from pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), caused by STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea, to some forms of cancer, caused by human papillomavirus (HPV)

Below are the main STDs to be aware of.

Pelvic inflammatory disease

Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis are common STIs that can lead to PIDTrusted Source if left untreated.

But not all cases of PID are caused by an STI, as other bacterial infections can play a role. 

Around 2.5 million womenTrusted Source in the United States have a reported lifetime history of being diagnosed with PID, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Although this infection of the female reproductive organs is classified as a disease, some people have no symptoms.

Those who do have symptoms may experience:

  • pelvic or lower abdominal pain
  • pain during penetrative vaginal sex or when urinating
  • irregular, heavy, or painful vaginal bleeding
  • unusual vaginal discharge
  • nausea
  • high temperature

Antibiotics can successfully treat PID if it’s diagnosed early enough. However, they won’t treat any scarring on the fallopian tubes that may have occurred. 

This scarring can make an ectopic pregnancymore likely and has also been linked to infertility, with around 1 in 10 people with PID becoming infertile as a result.

Tertiary syphilis

The early stages of syphilis —a relatively uncommon infection — are considered an STI.

The infection first appears as one or more small round sores on the genitals, anus, or mouth. If left untreated, syphilis will move to the latent phase, which has no symptomsTrusted Source.

However, around a quarter of people will go on to develop tertiary syphilis from here —a process that can take between 10 and 30 years after the initial infection.

This disease can have serious consequences for several organ systems in the body, leading to:

  • loss of vision
  • loss of hearing
  • memory loss
  • mental health conditions
  • infections of the brain or spinal cord
  • heart disease

The earlier syphilis is diagnosed and treated, the less damage it does. 

While penicillin injections are typically used to treat tertiary syphilis and remove the bacteria from the body, they can’t reverse any damage that’s already occurred. 

Of course, if the disease causes problems with major organs, like the heart, other medications and procedures may be required. 


Although some strains of HPV tend to cause no disease, other strains can cause abnormal cell changesTrusted Source.

This can lead to cancer, including:

According to the National Cancer InstituteTrusted Source, most cases of HPV-related cancer in the United States are caused by HPV 16 and HPV 18. 

HPV causes almost all cervical cancersTrusted Source, as well as over 90% of anal cancers, 75% of vaginal cancers, and over 60% of penile cancers.

Symptoms of these cancers vary, depending on where in the body they affect. Swellings and lumps, bleeding, and pain can be common.

If cancer is diagnosed early, it’s often easier to treat with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or surgery.

Some screening tests exist to detect pre-cancerous cell changes caused by HPV. 

Genital warts

Some lower-risk strains of HPV can cause a disease called genital warts

These skin-colored or white bumps show up on the genitals or anus, with over 350,000 peopledeveloping them every year. 

They are treatable, but not curable, as the virus that causes them may remain. (In some cases, HPV disappears on its own.)

Genital warts can also go away by themselves, but they can also come back.

If you want to get them removed, options range from freezing or burning them off to applying a chemical cream or liquid. 


HIV can damage the immune system and increase the risk of contracting other viruses or bacteria and developing certain cancers.

With today’s treatments, many people with HIV live long, healthy lives. 

But if left untreated, the virus can lead to AIDS, where the body becomes vulnerable to serious infections and illnesses.

People with AIDS may experience

  • rapid weight loss
  • extreme fatigue
  • sores
  • infections
  • neurologic disorders
  • cancers

No cure is available for AIDS. And due to the variety of diseases that can be contracted as a result of a severely weakened immune system, life expectancy without treatment is around 3 yearsTrusted Source.

Some STIs can be transmitted to a fetus during pregnancy or a newborn during childbirth. But this isn’t the case for all STDs.

Syphilis can be passed to an unborn baby, resulting in a serious infection, miscarriage, or stillbirth

Genital warts can also pass to a baby, but it’s extremely rare.

PID can affect future pregnancies, making an ectopic pregnancy more likely and causing infertility in 1 in 10 people.

Here’s what else to consider if you’re pregnant:

  • Get screened for STIs, including HIV and syphilis, to avoid complications by ensuring any infection can be detected and treated.
  • Speak with a healthcare professional if you have an STD. They may need to check that a medication is safe for you to use or delay treatment where necessary. 
  • Note that a cesarean delivery may be needed —particularly if genital warts make it difficult for the vagina to stretch. 

It’s hard for healthcare professionals to diagnose an STD based on symptoms alone, so they’ll need to do some tests and examinations.

Depending on the suspected STD, this may involve:

  • physical examinations 
  • swabs of bodily fluids
  • blood tests
  • specialist procedures, such as keyhole surgery or a colposcopy

STDs can have varied effects on the body.

There are a number of treatment options, depending on the condition, including:

  • antibiotics
  • other oral or topical medications
  • surgery
  • laser 

You may also be advised to make lifestyle alterations, such as abstaining from sex until treatment is complete.

Remember that, with most STDs, it’s not possible to undo any damage that the disease has already caused. And some STDs, such as genital warts and AIDS, aren’t curable.

The best way to avoid an STD is to prevent STIs. And the only foolproof way to do that is to avoid sexual contact.

But there are ways to make sex safer and reduce the risk of contracting an STI:

  • Have an open discussion about sexual history with a new partner before engaging in any sexual activity, and decide what you’re each comfortable with.
  • Get tested regularly for STIs, especially if you have a new partner or multiple partners. Ask any partners to do the same.
  • Use a condom properly during vaginal, anal, and oral sex to help prevent STIs that spread through fluids. Dental dams can also provide protection during oral sex.
  • Consider getting vaccinated for HPV and hepatitis B.
  • If you’re at a higher risk for contracting HIV, think about taking PrEP medication every day.

Many STDs are treatable, but not all of them are curable. Some can be life threatening, while others have less serious effects. 

They are, however, all caused by an STI. So the best way to prevent them is to get regularly screened and practice safer sex.

And if you test positive for any STI, seek treatment as soon as possible.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

STIs are very common and can come with a variety of symptoms. Although some people might not experience symptoms at all, it’s still worthwhile to know what signs to look out for. 

If left untreated, some STIs can cause serious damage to the body and be transmitted to other people through sexual contact.

STI symptoms can range from mild to severe — and they can affect different parts of the body.

After an initial infection, it can take days, weeks, months, or even years for symptoms to appear.

But it’s also common for some STIs, like chlamydiaand hepatitis B, to be asymptomaticTrusted Source. This means people may not even realize they have it. 

Here are the main symptoms to be aware of:

  • Pain when urinating or having sex can be a sign of everything from chlamydia and gonorrhea to genital herpes.
  • Dark urine can occur with hepatitis B.
  • Unusual discharge from the vagina, penis, or anus can appear with chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis.
  • Itchiness around the genitals may be seen with the likes of genital herpes and pubic lice.
  • Bleeding between periods or after sex is one of the most common chlamydia symptoms.
  • Pelvic and testicular pain can also occur with chlamydia.
  • Joint and muscle pain can also occur with hepatitis B.
  • Small blisters or sores around the genitals are potential symptoms of syphilis and genital herpes.

Even flu-like symptoms and rashes can be associated with STIs like HIV and syphilis. 

On that note, it’s important to realize that most of these can be symptoms of other conditions and can also easily be mistaken for other health concerns.

Consult with a doctor or other healthcare professional if you suspect that you’ve been exposed to an STI.

STDs vs. STIs

Did you know there’s a difference between an STI and a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?

STDs always begin as an STI. The initial infection occurs when bacteria, viruses, or parasites infiltrate the body.

A STI can become a disease if the foreign bodies begin to disrupt normal processes —this usually means symptoms start appearing. 

Examples of STDs include pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which results from an untreated chlamydia or gonorrhea infection, and cervical cancer, which can be caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Remember, not all STIs will become an STD, even if they are left untreated.

The major causesTrusted Source of STIs are:

  • bacteria, such as chlamydia or syphilis
  • viruses, such as HPV or HIV
  • parasites, such as Trichomonas vaginalis

These causes are primarily transmitted through bodily fluids during sexual activity. This includes vaginal, oral, and anal sex. 

But some can be transmitted from person to person via skin contact — for example, if you touch your partner’s genitals with yours.

Although anyone can contract an STI, data showsTrusted Source that young people and men who have sex with men (MSM) are at the greatest risk.

On the whole, an infection is classed as an STI if it’s mainly transmitted through sexual contactTrusted Source

However, there are a few exceptions. For example, cytomegalovirus (CMV) can be transmitted through sexual activity, but it’s not considered an STITrusted Source as it can be transmitted in a number of other ways, too. 

Some STIs are much more common than others. HPV is the most commonTrusted Source STI in the United States, with chlamydia and gonorrhea also heavily reported.

Other common STIs include genital herpes, with more than 1 in 6 peopleTrusted Source ages 14 to 49 developing it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Syphilis is much rarer, but there has been a resurgence in casesTrusted Source in recent years, primarily among MSM.

HIV infections, on the other hand, have greatly declined since the 1980s, with almost 35,000 new cases occurring in the United States in 2019. 

If treated promptly, most STIs are unlikely to become an STD. However, if left untreated for some time, the risk of an STD becomes greater. 

Not all STIs can be cured. HPV is one example. Some HPV strains can lead to cancer, so getting regularly screened for abnormal cell changes is key to early diagnosis.

A doctor or other healthcare professional can perform tests and examinations to help figure out whether you have an STI or a different condition altogether. 

These may include:

  • rapid fingerprick tests
  • fluid samples from the vagina, penis, anus, or any sores that have appeared
  • blood tests
  • urine samples
  • pelvic and physical examinations 

It’s important to get tested regularly if you are sexually active and to consult a healthcare professional as soon as you develop any symptoms.

Early diagnosis means you can get treatment earlier and decrease the risk of complications.

In some cases, untreated STIs can lead to serious health problemsTrusted Source.

They can:

  • increase the risk of infertility
  • cause certain types of cancer
  • make a person more susceptible to contracting HIV
  • lead to organ damage and even death

Pregnant people should be aware that STIs can affect an unborn babyTrusted Source and the overall pregnancy, too.

Some STIs can be passed to the baby before and during birth, potentially leading to:

  • infections
  • pneumonia
  • meningitis
  • blindness
  • deafness
  • brain damage
  • stillbirth

Premature labor is also a risk of having an untreated STI.

This is further complicated as some treatments may not be safe during pregnancy. A doctor or other healthcare professional will be able to recommend a treatment and delivery plan that will reduce the risk to you and your baby.

As some STIs are asymptomatic, all of the above makes it even more important to get screened on a regular basis. 

Doctors can treat certain STIsTrusted Source:

  • Chlamydia and trichomoniasis are cured with antibiotics.
  • Gonorrhea can be cured with antibiotics. However, some drug-resistant strains of the bacteria have emerged that don’t respond to traditional treatments and may be more difficult to cure.
  • Syphilis can also be cured with antibiotics. The medication your clinician chooses depends on the stage of syphilis.
  • Acute hepatitis B usually doesn’t require treatment. If the virus doesn’t clear on its own, antiviral medications are used to treat chronic hepatitis B.

Some conditions aren’t curable, but treatments can help reduce their symptoms. Herpes, HPV, and HIV fall into this category.

For herpes, clinicians will prescribe medications known as antivirals to shorten an outbreak. Some people take these medications on a daily basis to help reduce the likelihood of an outbreak. 

Daily antivirals are also used to treat HIV and stop the virus from replicating in the body. Within 6 months of treatment, the virus will become undetectable in most people. 

Clinicians don’t have specific treatments for genital warts caused by HPV. However, they may prescribe topical medications or perform procedures to help shrink or remove the lesions. 

Remember that even if you’ve been treated and no longer have an STI, you can contract the STI again. 

The only 100 percent effective way to prevent STIs is to abstain from any sexual activity. 

But there are waysTrusted Source to reduce the risk of both contracting an STI and developing complications:

  • Use condoms and other barrier methods correctly to reduce the risk of coming into contact with bodily fluids. 
  • Get tested regularly and encourage partners to as well. Note that STI screening isn’t a part of a standard health exam, so it’s important to ask for specific testing to get your results. 
  • Have open conversations with sexual partners about your sexual history and test results. 
  • Consider getting vaccinated against hepatitis B and HPV.
  • If you’re at a higher risk of contracting HIV, speak with a healthcare professional about a preventive treatment called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)

Most STIs can be treated, if not cured. The key is prevention where possible and regular screening to ensure that any infections are promptly treated. 

If you experience any symptoms, no matter how minor, it’s important to seek medical advice from a qualified healthcare professional.



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