What is an STI?
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are pathogenic illnesses, either viral or bacterial, that can be passed from one person to another via sexual activity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is a growing concern about the infection rate as it continues to rise in the United States.
Due to the nature of these illnesses, women are more likely to experience long-term health effects after contracting an STI or STD. Sometimes these pathogens can cause little to no symptoms, allowing them to go unnoticed for long periods. Unfortunately, this makes them more dangerous and more likely to spread.
Additionally, certain STDs can damage the reproductive system, causing infertility in both men and women. Of extra concern is the fact that a woman with an STD who is also pregnant risks passing the infection on to her baby. It could happen while the baby is in utero or during delivery. A baby’s eyes, lungs, and liver can experience irreversible damage if exposed to an STD during development.
For women: Usually none. May experience vaginal discharge, burning with urination, lower abdominal pain, low back pain, nausea, pain during intercourse, and bleeding between menstrual periods.
For men: Usually none. May experience discharge from the penis, burning with urination, burning, or itching around the opening of the penis, or pain and swelling of the testicles.
According to the CDC, chlamydia, when left untreated, can lead to several other severe conditions.
For women: A severe condition called pelvic inflammatory disease can ensue, as well as the forming of scar tissue which may build over the fallopian tubes, increased chances of ectopic pregnancies, decreased fertility, and lasting pain within the pelvic region.
For men: Urethral infection and sterility.
For women: Yellow or bloody vaginal discharge. Burning with urination.
For men: Yellowish-white discharge from the penis. Burning with urination. Swollen or painful testicles.
Rarely, but still, possible gonorrhea can spread through the bloodstream, causing a life-threatening condition called sepsis.
For women and men: The first stage includes swollen, non-painful sores (called chancres), where the infection enters the body. The ulcers may go unnoticed if they are inside the body. The second stage includes rash, fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and fatigue. These symptoms can last as long as a year. The third stage may consist of more detrimental symptoms like coordination loss, paralysis, numbness, blindness, dementia, and even death.
In women and men: irreversible nervous system damage can ensue. This can cause problems in vision, hearing, heart function, sense of touch, cognitive functioning, and incontinence.
In women and men: Fever, sore throat, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, rash, headaches, diarrhea, elevated temperatures, night sweats, coughing, and pain in both joints and muscles.
In women and men: The immune system breaks down; when this occurs, even common colds can cause more severe infections and eventually death. This condition may also infect unborn children.
For women and men: Painful ulcers appear at the site of infection. Periodic eruptions of these ulcers anywhere on the body. Pain during sex. Fever and swollen glands. An initial outbreak is considered to be extremely painful. For many, symptoms may be very mild or go unnoticed for long periods.
In women and men: Continuous outbreaks. Life-long treatment is required. Causes potentially fatal infections in infants with a mother who carries the virus during delivery.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
For women: HPV can form genital warts that sometimes resemble cauliflower shapes. Women may experience vulvar itching and pain. Many times, people do not experience noticeable symptoms, however. This virus is usually detected through abnormal pap smears.
For men: Genital warts, which can be similar to those in women.
For women: Requires painful and expensive treatment to remove pre-cancerous warts. It is also believed that HPV is the leading cause of most cervical cancers in women today.
For men: Cancer of the penis and anus
In women and men: May experience jaundice (yellowing of the skin), fatigue, dark urine, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and joint pain. Sometimes no symptoms present, even when a person is infected.
In women and men: Severe liver damage. May lead to cancer of the liver, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), and ultimately liver failure.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
For women: symptoms can often go undetected. Some signs that do present are lower abdominal pain, fever, unusual vaginal discharge and odor, painful intercourse, painful urination, and irregular menstrual bleeding.
For men: None. This disease only affects females; however, it may be passed to women by infections carried by men.
In women: Ectopic pregnancy, infertility, chronic pain, and abscess formation occurring to the reproductive tract can become life-threatening.
In men: None.
Unfortunately, women are more likely than men to suffer long-term health consequences from STDs. Some STDs can damage the reproductive system, making a woman infertile. Women who are pregnant when they contract an STD or STI risk passing the infection along to their baby during pregnancy or childbirth. STDs or STIs can affect the development of a baby’s eyes, lungs, and liver, causing irreversible damage.
Whether pregnant or not, a health check or sexually transmitted infection testing is important for sexual health. These infections can be severe when left untreated. Both sexually active men and women should consider testing, especially if they have multiple sexual partners or are involved in other unsafe sexual behaviors.
STI / STD prevention
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Abstinence from sex is the only 100 percent effective way to prevent unplanned pregnancies and STDs.” Condom use reduces but does not eliminate the risk, as some STIs are transmitted by skin-to-skin contact and bodily fluids. Unfortunately, all forms of sexual contact can spread infections. There are even several types of STIs that are not routinely testable. Not all STIs are curable, but regular testing is highly recommended to help safeguard your health. Avoiding sexual contact with new partners until you have both been tested for STIs is also vital to protect against the spread of these infections.
Reasons to get tested today:
- Most STDs are treatable.
- STIs can go undetected because sometimes symptoms do not present.
- You may have been exposed to more than one STD.
- Early detection and treatment are the keys to recovery.
- You can potentially infect other partners.
- Peace of mind
Care Net Pregnancy Center’s locations offer free STI / STD testing for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea. We welcome you to contact us to schedule an appointment at one of our four locations.
Please note you will need a second appointment within the next 2 to 7 days from your initial meeting to discuss your test results. Test results may take a couple of days to a week to receive. If your result is positive, you and your sexual partner(s) will be referred to a treatment center. Chlamydia and Gonorrhea are two of the most common, treatable STIs and are considered markers for other infections. If you test positive for either, it may indicate that you have another serious STI. Please rest assured that your Care Net medical provider or personal advocate will provide a list of treatment options for your health and safety.