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Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Information for Women



Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are contracted from person to person through vaginal,

anal, or oral sex. STDs are extremely common. In fact, 20 million new cases are reported in the United States each year, with 50 percent of these cases generally affecting people between the ages of 15 and 24.

The good news is that most STDs are curable and even those without a cure can be effectively managed or minimized with treatment.

There are many different STDs, such as:

If you haven’t heard of some of the above, it’s because many of these STDs are uncommon. The eight most common STDs are:

Out of these eight infections, only four are incurable.

Most STDs are curable through the use of antibiotics or antiviral medications. However, there are still four incurable STDs:

  • hepatitis B
  • herpes
  • HIV
  • HPV

Even though these infections can’t be cured, they can be managed with treatment and medication.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is one of the leading causes of liver cancer. Babies usually receive a vaccine against this infection at birth, but many adults born before 1991 may not have received the vaccine.

Most cases of hepatitis B don’t cause symptoms and most adults can fight the infection on their own. If you have hepatitis B, your best option is to speak to your doctor about checking your liver and your medication options to lessen symptoms. Immune system modulators and antiviral medications can help slow the virus’s damage to your liver.

Herpes

Herpes is one of two chronic viral STDs. Herpes is very common — over 500 million peopleTrusted Source are estimated to have herpes worldwide.

Herpes is spread through skin-to-skin contact. Many people with herpes may not know they have it because they show no symptoms. However, when there are symptoms, they come in the form of painful sores around the genitals or anus.

Luckily, herpes is very treatable with antiviral medications that reduce outbreaks and the risk for transmission. If you have herpes and are showing symptoms, talk with your doctor about the right antiviral medications for you.

HIV

HIV is the other chronic viral STD. Thanks to modern medicine, many people with HIV can live long, healthy lives with practically no risk of infecting others through sex.

The main treatment for HIV is called antiretroviral therapy. These drugs reduce the amount of HIV in the blood to undetectable levels.

HPV

Human papillomavirus is extremely common. About 9 out of 10 sexually active peopleTrusted Source will contract HPV. About 90 percentTrusted Source of these infections go away within two years of detection. However, HPV is still incurable and, in some cases, it can lead to:

Many children are vaccinated to protect against different forms of HPV. Pap smears for womencheck for HPV once every few years. Genital warts can be removed with creams, liquid nitrogen, acid, or minor surgery.

Contracting an STD, even an incurable one, can be manageable. Many are treatable, even curable, through antibiotics or antiviral medications, and some STDs clear up on their own.

With most STDs, you may not show any signs or symptoms. For this reason, it’s very important to get tested for STDs on a regular basis for your own safety, the safety of your partner(s), and general public health.

The best treatment for STDs will always be prevention. If you have an STD or think you might have one, speak with your doctor to discuss your options.

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.

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.

Think of it this way: An STD will always start out as an STI. But not all STIs turn into STDs.

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. 

Cancer

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. 

AIDS

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 Disease (STD) Information for Women

Sexually transmitted infections and diseases (STIs and STDs) are transmitted through vaginal, anal, or oral sexual contact. Symptoms of an STD for those with a vagina can include:

Many STIs display no symptoms at all. Left untreated, they can lead to fertility problems and an increased risk of cervical cancer. These risks make it even more important to practice safer sex

Every year worldwide, there are approximately 376 millionTrusted Source new transmissions of syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. 

Because many people with vaginas don’t show symptoms with some STIs, they may not know they need treatment. It’s estimated that as many as 1 in 6 Americans has genital herpes, but most are unawareTrusted Source that they have it.

Some of the most common STIs in women and those with a vagina include:

HPV is the most common STI in women. It’s also the main cause of cervical cancer. 

A vaccine is available that can help prevent certain strains of HPV up to age 45 yearsTrusted Source. For more information, read about the pros and cons of the HPV vaccine.

Gonorrhea and chlamydia are common bacterial STIs. In fact, chlamydia is the most commonly reported STI in the Unites States. 

Some gynecologists will automatically check for both during normal checkups, but you should ask for medical screening if you think you may be at risk. 

Genital herpes is also common, with about 1 out of 6Trusted Source people between the ages 14 and 49 years having it. 

Women should be aware of possible STI symptoms so that they can seek medical advice if necessary. Some of the most common symptoms are described below.

Changes in urination. An STI can be indicated by pain or a burning sensation during urination, the need to pee more frequently, or the presence of blood in the urine.

Abnormal vaginal discharge. The look and consistency of vaginal discharge changes continually through a woman’s cycle or even in the absence of a cycle. Thick, white discharge can be a sign of a yeast infection. When discharge is yellow or green, it might indicate gonorrhea or trichomoniasis.

Itching in the vaginal area. Itching is a nonspecific symptom that may or may not be related to an STI. Sex-related causes for vaginal itching may include:

Pain during sex. This symptom is often overlooked, but abdominal or pelvic pain can be a sign of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is most commonly caused by the advanced stage of chlamydia or gonorrhea. 

Abnormal bleeding. Abnormal bleeding is another possible sign of PID or other reproductive problems cause by an STI.

Rashes or sores. Sores or tiny pimples around the mouth or vagina can indicate herpes, HPV, or syphilis.

Everyone should take certain preventive measures to avoid acquiring or transmitting STIs.

Get tested regularly

Typically, those with a vagina should get a Pap smear every 3 to 5 years. It’s also important to ask if you should be tested for any other STIs and whether the HPV vaccination is suggested. 

According to the Office on Women’s HealthTrusted Source, you should talk to your doctor about STI testing if you’re sexually active.

Use protection

Whether it’s for vaginal, anal, or oral sex, a condom or other barrier method can help protect both you and your partner. Female condoms and dental dams can provide a certain level of protection. 

Spermicides, the birth control pill, and other forms of contraception may protect against pregnancy, but they don’t protect against STIs. 

Communicate

Honest communication with both your doctor and your partner(s) about sexual history is essential.

A person can get STIs while pregnant. Because many conditions don’t show symptoms, some people don’t realize they’re living with one. For this reason, doctors may run a full STI panel at the beginning of a pregnancy. 

These conditions can be life threatening to you and your baby. You can pass STIs on to your baby during pregnancy or birth, so early treatment is essential. 

All bacterial STIs can be treated safely with antibiotics during pregnancy. Viral conditions can be treated with antivirals to prevent the likelihood of passing the condition to your child.

Some people will develop STIs as a direct result of a sexual assault. When women see a healthcare provider immediately following an assault, the healthcare provider tries to capture DNA and evaluate for injuries. 

During this process, they check for potential STI diagnosis. If some time has passed since a sexual assault, you should still seek medical care. Your doctor or another healthcare provider can discuss possibly reporting the event, along with health-related concerns. 

Depending on the person and their individual risk factors and medical history, the healthcare provider may prescribe preventive treatment, including:

Following up with a healthcare provider at the recommended time is important to ensure that the medications were effective and that no conditions need to be treated. 

Here are a few things you should do after being diagnosed with an STI:

  • Start any treatment your doctor prescribes for you immediately.
  • Contact your partner(s) and let them know that they need to get tested and treated, too.
  • Abstain from sex until the condition is either cured or until your doctor gives approval. In the case of bacterial conditions, you should wait until the medications have cured you and your partner.
  • For viral conditions, wait long enough for your partner to be on antiviral medications, if necessary, to reduce the risk of transmitting the condition to them. Your doctor will be able to give you the correct time frame.

Here’s a quick reference guide to some common STIs that don’t pass on through kissing:

  • Chlamydia. This bacterial STI is only spread through oral, anal, or genital sex without barrier methods. The bacteria isn’t transmitted through saliva.
  • Gonorrhea. This is another bacterial STI only passed on through sexual activity, not saliva from kissing.
  • Hepatitis. This is a liver condition typically caused by a virus that can be spread through sexual contact or exposure to blood that contains the virus, but not through kissing.
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This is a bacterial infection spread through sexual contact. The bacteria can cause PID when introduced into the vagina, but not the mouth.
  • Trichomoniasis. This bacterial STI is only transmitted through genital sexual activity without barrier methods, not through kissing or even oral or anal sex.
  • HIV. This is a viral infection that isn’t transmitted through kissing. Saliva can’t transmit this virus. Contact with the following fluids can transmit HIV when they contain the virus:
    • semen
    • blood
    • vaginal fluid
    • anal fluid
    • breast milk
  • STDs can be a tricky, uncomfortable subject to talk about. Here are some tips for having a mature, productive discussion with your partner:

    • Set your expectations upfront. If you want your partner, whether new or longtime, to use barrier methods, tell them and be firm about it. It’s your body, and your partner has no right to tell you how to have sex.
    • Be direct, open, and honest. If you’re uncomfortable with having sex without first getting tested or using barrier methods, be clear about this and set the boundaries before you engage in any sexual activity. If you have an STI, let them know before having sex.
    • Use barrier methods. Condoms, dental dams, and other protective barriers not only have a high chance of preventing pregnancy but also shielding you against almost all STIs.
    • Above all, be understanding. Don’t get mad at your partner — or yourself — if you find out that either of you has an STI. Not all of them are spread through sex alone, so don’t assume that they’ve cheated on you or kept a secret from you. Some people don’t find out they have STIs until years later because of a lack of symptoms, so it’s important to trust your partner.

    While most STI/STDs can’t be transmitted through kissing, there are some STIs that can spread this way, so it’s important to be aware of this before you kiss someone, so you can take proper precautions.

    Communication is key: Discuss these things with your partner before you engage in any kind of sexual activity, and don’t be afraid to get tested or ask your partner to get tested. Open discussion like this can take away some of the anxiety and uncertainty and make the experience even more fulfilling.

    If you’re concerned you might have an STI, see your healthcare provider right away before you have sex or engage in any related activity.

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