Sexually transmitted diseases or STDs seem to be more common than we think, and even though most can be prevented with careful sexual interactions and protection, what is one to do when they actually get diagnosed with one?
The busy, fast-paced living of today created an environment of online dating and more sexually-focused encounters. With it, comes the inevitable risk of getting intimate with someone who might be positive for an STD which they aren’t even aware of. And even with all prevention and protection, there’s always a possibility of getting infected.
All STDs start as sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, which if left untreated, turn into sexually transmitted diseases. And while an infection might result in almost no symptoms at all, a developed disease usually comes with clear signs of something being wrong. So, what to do with an STD?
Most Common STDs
Even though there are many sexually transmitted diseases, there are some that are more common than others. And depending on which one you get diagnosed with, there are different approaches you can take towards treating them. The list includes:
One of the most common STDs with barely any symptoms is chlamydia. Unfortunately, if left untreated, it can cause pelvic pain in both, men and women, as well as infertility and miscarriages. It can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, and oral sex, and infect all organs, from the penis, vagina, and cervix, to the anus, urethra, eyes, and even throat. It can also be passed to the baby during pregnancy if the mom is infected.
Since in most cases, those who are infected have no symptoms, the only way to actually know you’re positive is to get tested. Still, in those rare cases where symptoms do occur, they present themselves as abnormal vaginal, penal, or anal discharge, pain or burning while urinating and during sex, abdomen pain, and swollen or tender testicles. These symptoms are very common for a myriad of other diseases or even fungal infections, so proper testing is the only way to get a clear diagnosis.
Treatment: Chlamydia is fortunately easy to treat with a round of antibiotics and abstinence from sexual intercourse. If you have a regular partner, he or she will also have to go through a round of antibiotics so you don’t infect each other again. After 3-4 months, it’s recommended to repeat the test to make sure you’re in the clear.
This bacteria-causing sexually transmitted disease most often affects the urethra, cervix, rectum, or throat and it can be transmitted through vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Babies of infected mothers can also get positive during childbirth.
Gonorrhea is also one of the STDs which basically have zero symptoms, but it can cause painful urination and intercourse, swelling and pain in the testicles, abnormal discharge in both, men and women, abdominal pain, and even vaginal bleeding between periods. In more severe cases, it can cause puss-like discharge and high sensitivity of the eyes, increased lymph nodes in the throat, rectum problems, and even issues with your joints. If left untreated, it can lead to infertility and severe infections such as sepsis, and an increased risk of HIV infection.
Treatment: Gonorrhea is usually treated with antibiotics, but since there are different strains, you might need both, an injection and a pill. Your partner will need to go through a round of antibiotics as well, and repeating the testing in a few months is recommended.
Another bacterial infection causing and zero-symptom STD, syphilis is a highly contagious sexually transmitted disease that spreads through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. It can cause a plethora of serious health problems, from brain damage and blindness to arthritis and miscarriage. It can also be transmitted to the baby during pregnancy.
Unlike other STDs, syphilis has three stages:
- The primary stage affects the sex organs and can show up as sores. They’re firm, round, and painless, but if left untreated, they easily progress to the secondary stage
- The secondary stage can cause skin rashes and/or sores in your mouth, vagina, or anus, sometimes even on the palms of your hands and/or the bottoms of your feet. This can be accompanied by a fever, sore throat, weakness, fatigue, and more.
- The third stage is very rare and it can affect many different organ systems, from the heart and blood vessels to the brain and nervous system, potentially even resulting in death. It usually occurs 10–30 years after your infection began.
Treatment: Syphilis is curable with the right antibiotics, but if you’ve developed the tertiary syphilis, some damage might be irreparable. Additional testing and treatment for both partners is crucial for getting rid of this STD.
Caused by the herpes simplex virus, genital herpes is a very common STD that can be reactivated for years to come. It rarely comes with no symptoms, and these include pain, itching, and sores in both, male and female genital areas.
Treatment: Unfortunately, there is no cure for genital herpes, and the signs and symptoms may recur, off and on, for years. There is some hope in using antiviral medications, but it just seems to be a short-term solution for when an outbreak occurs.
Caused by the human papillomavirus, this is the most common out of all sexually transmitted diseases, infecting over 50 million people a year in the United States alone. Usually spread through anal and vaginal sex, HPV can easily affect both sexes and develop zero symptoms.
In a lot of cases, HPV can recess in a year or two, but it can also create serious problems, even leading to genital warts and cancer.
Treatment: HPV isn’t curable, but the symptoms and consequential health problems related to HPV can be treated. Genital warts are treated with medication and cancers and pre-cancers have their standardized treatments depending on which type of cancer has developed.
Probably the most dangerous of all STDs, human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV attacks the body’s immune system, making it prone to all sorts of diseases and infections. If left untreated, it can lead to the development of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS.
HIV usually has three noticable stages:
- Stage 1 – acute HIV infection which can sometimes come with flu-like symptoms
- Stage 2 – asymptomatic HIV infection or clinical latency
- Stage 3 – AIDS which causes severely damaged immune systems that decrease the life expectancy to only three years since the disease developed.
Treatment: There is currently no proved cure for HIV, but with proper medical care, it can be controlled. Those with an effective HIV treatment can live long, healthy lives and protect their partners. Recent discovery has sprung some hope into the treatment of HIV as a woman has been reported to have cured herself of HIV after a cutting-edge 4-year long experimental therapy.
How To Prevent STDs?
If you’re a sexually active person, the question of how to protect yourself from STDs should be important to you. And even though the only thing that can 100% work is sex abstinence, the best things you can do for your sexual health and avoid serious health problems include:
- Using protection such as condoms and dental dams during oral sex
- Regular testings, especially if changing sex partners
- Immediate testing if any symptoms occur in order to prevent the disease from progressing any further
- Having open discussions with a new partner and your sexual history
- Being in a monogamous sexual relationship
- Getting vaccinated for HPV and Hepatitis B
- Potentially taking Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrePs) if you’re in a situation where getting HIV is more likely
Additional Things To Do If You Have an STD
In addition to using antibiotics or specific STD-related treatments, it’s important to support your overall health and wellbeing and boost your immune system so it can efficiently fight whatever bacteria or virus attacks it. These practices include:
- Eating healthy foods and avoiding processed items
- Regular exercise and movement
- Improved sleep and sleeping hygiene
- Reducing stress and implementing self-care techniques
- Educating yourself on the dangers of STDs and their symptoms
Sexually transmitted diseases are extremely dangerous as they usually come with no symptoms and can cause serious health complications down the road. Using protection and regular testings, staying honest with your sex partner and being aware of any symptom development is your best way of preventing and fighting STDs, no matter what life stage you’re at.