STDs – how do I know if I have one?

Beside unwanted pregnancy, unprotected sex can lead to HIV infection that may cause the incurable disease AIDS, as well as many other sexually transmitted diseases which you should be aware of.

Most STDs can be cured, and the chronic ones can be kept under control with proper treatment. The most important thing is to react in time and educate yourself on how to recognise the symptoms, visit a doctor and start appropriate treatment. Take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions regarding sexually transmitted diseases…

What is trichomoniasis?

This is a sexually transmitted disease caused by a small organism called Trichomonas vaginalis. This disease predominantly affects women, although men can become infected as well and transmit the infection to their partners through sexual contact.

What are the symptoms?

Pain while urinating, itching and irritation of the genital area, discomfort during sexual intercourse.

How is it diagnosed?

To diagnose trichomoniasis, your doctor must do a physical examination and laboratory testing.

What is the treatment?

Antibiotics that will be prescribed by your doctor.

What is human papillomavirus (HPV)?

This is a group of viruses that attack the genitals and, in case the immune system is weakened, these viruses can cause benign (warts) and potentially malignant changes.

There are many types of HPV, of which type 6 and type 11 are the ones that cause genital warts.

This STD affects both women and men and is transmitted through direct contact with infected skin and mucous membranes. The most important complication of an HPV infection is a possibility of cervical cancer in women infected with high-risk types of HPV (16, 18, 31….)

What are the symptoms?

Genital warts are skin growths that develop due to the infection with type 6 and type 11 HPV. It is important to know that you can be a carrier of the virus even without any visible symptoms.

How is it diagnosed?

If you do not have visible genital warts, the doctor will do a gynaecological examination, colposcopy or microscopic examination of the cervix and external genitalia, as well as the Pap test and, if there is a suspicion of an HPV infection, DNA profiling of the sample taken from the cervix.

What is the treatment?

Treatment of genital warts that implies their removal is done quite successfully, but there is no medicine that will remove the HPV virus from the body forever. In most cases, the body eventually gets rid of the virus on its own.

What are pubic lice?

These are tiny insects that feed on human blood and rapidly proliferate. Although pubic lice mainly live in the genital region of the body, around the penis or vagina, sometimes they can be found in other regions on the body.

What are the symptoms?

Similar to other sexually transmitted diseases and sexually transmitted infections, sometimes there are no symptoms to indicate that the pubic lice are present. Symptoms you may have include irritation and itching in the genital region.

How are they diagnosed?

If you suspect that you may have pubic lice, take a closer look at your pubic hair. Lice can be seen with the naked eye, although it is quite difficult, because they are very small and move fairly quickly.

What is the treatment?

There are shampoos and creams that are used to remove lice.

Who should I inform?

Your current partner, as well as future partners.

How long is the abstinence period?

As long as the pubic lice are present.

What is gonorrhea?

This is a relatively common venereal disease caused by gonococcal bacteria. It is transferred very easily from one person to another, causing it to be so widely spread.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of gonorrhea are generally mild or almost imperceptible. Burning sensation while urinating, yellowish discharge, vaginal bleeding… may indicate the occurrence of this disease.

How is it diagnosed?

By going to the doctor after you notice the symptoms, you can determine whether it really is gonorrhoea. There are reliable tests that can determine presence of bacteria gonococcus.

What is the treatment?

After the test, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic which will cleanse the body from infection. If left untreated, the infection may spread and cause inflammation of internal genital organs in women with a tendency of pelvic inflammation – that is why it is so important to follow to the prescribed therapy.

Who should I inform?

Your current partner and partners with whom you have had sexual contact in the last two months.

How long is the abstinence period?

During the treatment and one week after.

Doctor and patient sitting on the deskWhat is herpes?

This is a venereal disease caused by the herpes virus. There are two types of this virus, HSV-1 and HSV-2. Type 2 mainly affects the genital region, causing painful blisters that burst, leaving recurring skin wounds. Treatment of herpes infection is necessary.

What are the symptoms?

HSV-2 type of virus is more common and it causes blisters in the genital region. You may also experience fever, swollen glands and a sore throat.

How is it diagnosed?

Proper diagnosis can be set only by a doctor. The ordinary gynaecological examination is usually sufficient to establish a diagnosis, but if there are no visible symptoms, your doctor may take a swab from suspicious skin areas, and test it in the laboratory. Another way is to take blood samples and test them for the presence of HSV.

What is the treatment?

There is therapy that your doctor will prescribe to you, but this will only reduce the impact of the virus on the body and strengthen your defence mechanisms. No medication can completely remove the virus from your body.

Who should I inform?

Your current and future partners, as well as partners you had sexual contact with during the previous year.

How long is the abstinence period?

No sex until the wounds are healed.

What is chlamydia?

This is a very common sexual disease caused by a microorganism similar to both bacteria and viruses. Any sexually active person can be infected and, if left untreated, it can cause permanent damage to the reproductive organs leading to infertility in both men and women.

What are the symptoms?

Very often there are no symptoms whatsoever, so regular visits to the gynaecologist are necessary. If you do experience any symptoms, they may include: burning sensation when urinating, increased vaginal discharge, pain in the lower back, pain during sex and vaginal bleeding between cycles.

How is it diagnosed?

This disease can be diagnosed properly only by a doctor using a Chlamydia test. This test requires a sample swab from the cervical canal (sample can also be taken from body fluids or urine.)

What is the treatment?

Chlamydia is treated using antibiotics that will be prescribed by the doctor. It is very important to follow the instructions and not to interrupt therapy. It is also necessary to abstain from sexual activity to avoid infecting your partner.

Who should I inform?

Your current partner and partners with whom you have been in the last two months.

How long is the abstinence period?

While taking medication and a week after.

What is syphilis?

This is a disease that, if left untreated, may lead to a dangerous damage to the nervous system, heart, brain, and even death. Transmission of the bacteria syphilis occurs usually during sex.

What are the symptoms?

Syphilis develops in four stages: painless sores appear at the site where the bacteria entered the body, a rash on the body, latent phase (no visible symptoms) and late stage (symptoms depend on the developed complications).

How is it diagnosed?

There are few precise blood test that will prove the presence of infection. The most commonly applied test was Wasserman test, but it has been replaced in the recent years with more precise methods of detection. In any case, if you notice any of the symptoms you should visit a doctor, and they will direct you to further steps.

What is the treatment?

Penicillin and other antibiotics have proven to be excellent in the treatment of this disease. The sooner you start the treatment, the better results you can expect.

What is hepatitis B?

This sexual infection causes inflammation of the liver. It can be acute, lasting up to 6 months, or chronic, which lasts for more than 6 months. It can be transmitted sexually or through blood (e.g. by sharing injecting drug equipment). It can also be passed on at birth if the mother is infected.

What are the symptoms?

In acute hepatitis, usual symptoms include loss of appetite, nausea and fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice…
If the disease turns into a chronic form, liver inflammation will develop – if left untreated, it can lead to cirrhosis and cancer.

How is it diagnosed?

Infection by any type of hepatitis virus can be determined by blood test. If test results are positive for hepatitis B, your doctor will identify the type of virus and prescribe the proper treatment. Sometimes liver biopsy is required to determine how dangerous the stage of disease is.

What is the treatment?

In order for your body to defend itself from the acute form of hepatitis, it needs a lot of rest and fluid intake. If you suffer from a chronic form of the disease, the doctor will prescribe the appropriate therapy.

Who should I inform?

Your current and future partners, as well as previous partners you had sexual contact with in the previous year.

How long is the abstinence period?

Ask your doctor about when you can resume normal sexual activity.

Know your HIV status
Photo credit: jonrawlinson / Foter / CC BY

What is HIV?

This virus attacks the immune system and creates the possibility for AIDS to develop. It is transmitted through sexual contact and through blood. A person who has HIV does not have to have AIDS. However, if a person has AIDS, they also have HIV.

What are the symptoms?

Flu-like symptoms, fever, fatigue, headache, enlargement of lymph nodes…

How is it diagnosed?

The only way that this dangerous virus can be detected is a blood test. AIDS is an extremely dangerous disease and all those who are sexually active and not using condoms, or they shared injecting equipment, for whatever reason, need to be tested.

What is the treatment?

The cure for AIDS does not exist and therefore it is mandatory to use a condom during sexual intercourse.

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