The Most Common STDs in Women and Men and Their Symptoms
STD Diseases & Symptoms

The Most Common STDs in Women and Men and Their Symptoms

Everyone who engages in sex, whether oral, anal or vaginal, is vulnerable to STDs or sexually transmitted diseases.

Anyone can contract STDs, either straight, gay, married or single. Although STDs can be avoided by having protected sex using condoms, this is not a full proof method. A sexually active person who experiences any STD symptoms should consult a doctor immediately to get treated. Partners should also be informed, evaluated and treated, if required.

Common STDs

Gonorrhea, syphilis, genital herpes, chlamydia, genital warts, HIV infection and AIDs are some of the most common sexually transmitted diseases seen in both men and women. Although STD symptoms vary depending upon the type of the disease, the most common symptoms of STDs include:

  • genital itching
  • thick, cloudy or bloody discharge from the genitals
  • lower abdominal pain
  • testicular pain in men
  • painful bowel movements
  • abnormal menstrual bleeding in women
  • soreness
  • painful, swollen testicles in men
  • lumps
  • pain during sexual intercourse
  • pain or burning sensation when urinating
  • and flu-like symptoms.

Genital Herpes

Most people think of herpes as red sores that are painful to the touch. However, most genital herpes does not show symptoms but can still be transmitted to partners. At least one in six adults between 14 and 49 years of age have herpes, with most of them never showing any signs of having the disease. If they do show signs, they are often very mild.

There is no cure for this STD, and condoms don’t completely stop the transmission of the virus. There are several anti-herpes medications available, which can lower the chance of spreading the disease.

Genital Herpes Symptoms

Genital herpes is caused by a special type of virus known as the herpes simplex virus or HSV. This is one of the most highly contagious STDs. The virus enters the body of the host through skin or mucous membranes.

Generally, the symptoms of genital herpes are subtle and often go unnoticed. Pain and itching in the genital area, buttocks and thighs are common signs of genital herpes, along with blisters or ulcers in the genitalia. During the initial infection, some people experience flu-like symptoms like fever, headache, muscle aches and swollen lymph nodes near the groin.

Symptoms of Genital Warts

Genital warts represent another common STD caused by the human papilloma virus or HPV. Common symptoms of genital warts include bleeding during intercourse, swelling in the genitalia and itching. Sometimes several warts form together, creating a shape similar to a cauliflower. Genital warts can also occur in the mouth and throat of a person who indulges in oral sex with an infected person.

Chlamydia

The most common STD in the U.S. is chlamydia with more than 1.7 million cases being reported in 2017. The majority of cases occurred in 15 to 24-year-olds. It’s known as a silent disease because it can lead to ovarian, fallopian tubes and endometrial lining scarring. Scarring can also increase a woman’s risk for ectopic pregnancies and infertility.

However, a week’s worth of antibiotics can completely clear up the infection.

Chlamydia Symptoms

Chlamydia is a bacterium that often infects the genital tract. Early infection shows mild or no symptoms so the affected person often overlooks it. Common symptoms of the chlamydia infection include lower abdominal pain, painful urination, discharge from penis and vagina and pain in the genitals.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

This is a sexually transmitted infection, and one the condom can’t protect you from. Most people will catch HPV at some point in their life and never know it. A person can carry the disease and pass it on without any physical symptoms of the disease. Why is that? Some strains will lead to genital warts while others don’t.

HPV isn’t a routine screening tool for women under 30, as in most cases the disease comes and go. If you’re over the age of 30, screening for the infection when you get your Pap smear is a must. That’s because several HPV strains can lead to cervical cancer. An abnormal Pap smear will show changes in the cells, and depending on the kind of cell abnormality you have, your doctor may test you for HPV.

Gonorrhea

This infection is the result of the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria, and in 2017, there were over 550,000 cases reported. It’s the second most common STD in the U.S., following chlamydia. The problem with gonorrhea is that it has no symptoms, and untreated gonorrhea could cause pelvic inflammatory disease, inability to get pregnant, scar tissue blocking fallopian tubes and constant stomach pains.

Women who are infected with gonorrhea and pregnant could pass the infection onto their baby during delivery. This could lead to serious health complications for the newborn.

Doctors are considered about the emergence of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea. For gonorrhea that’s not resistant, there is a one-time shot of Ceftriaxone as well as oral antibiotics.

Gonorrhea Symptoms

Like chlamydia, gonorrhea is also caused by bacterial infection of the genital tract. The most common symptom of gonorrhea is cloudy or bloody discharge from the vagina or penis along with frequent urination. Other symptoms include painful intercourse and a burning sensation during urinating.

HIV

A month of being transmitted with HIV, you may feel like you have the flu, but the virus can actually stay hidden for years after the initial infection.

The Mayo Clinic said a person who gets HIV and receives no treatment can live up to 10 years before it becomes AIDS. Still, HIV will lead to immunodeficiency, which increases one’s chance for cancer and other infections. Doctors urge people to get treatment if they suspect they have been exposed to HIV, as many drugs can actually expand a person’s lifespan to a normal range.

On top of that, antiviral medications allow people to engage in sexual intercourse without passing the virus onto their partner.

HIV Infection Symptoms

The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV virus interferes with the body’s immune system, making it susceptible to other secondary infections, which can eventually lead to AIDS, a life-threatening disease. Early symptoms of HIV are usually normal viral infections including fever, sore throat, headache and swollen lymph nodes. As the infections persist, multiple infections like diarrhea, weight loss, chills and fever are noticed.

Hepatitis B

The U.S. has seen a drop in hepatitis B infections after the 1991 recommendation of routine vaccines to children. And, adults who have the disease often find that it clears up on its own. However, for chronic hepatitis B, there is a chance for it to become liver cancer. However, there are quite a few antiviral drugs to prevent this from happening and cure the infection.

Trichomoniasis

This is not a very well-known STD, but it’s extremely common and is the result of a parasite. The CDC estimates that 30 percent of people with the parasite have symptoms, which means you could have it and show no symptoms. If you do have symptoms, you’re likely to experience the following:

  • Burning
  • Itching
  • Soreness
  • Redness
  • Painful urination
  • Vaginal discharge with a fishy smell

Men may experience similar symptoms.

If untreated, it can lead to increased risk of other STDs such as HIV. Pregnant women with trichomoniasis may give birth prematurely or to an underweight baby.

Each time you have sex, you need to use a condom to mitigate the chances of catching this sexually transmitted disease. The CDC doesn’t suggest routine screening for it unless you live in a region where there is a high rate of infection or you engage in risky sexual behaviors. Like several other STDs, antibiotics will cure you of trichomoniasis, but since you can get re-infected, it’s important for your partner to get tested and treated if positive.

How are STDs treated?

The treatment of a STD varies depending on the type of STD. Some STDs require a person to take antibiotic medication either by mouth or by injection; other STDs require a person to apply creams or special solutions on the skin. Some STDs, such as genital herpes and HIV (which leads to AIDS), cannot be cured, but only controlled with medication.

How can I protect myself from STDs?

  • Use a condom!
  • talk with/examine your partner
  • limit your number of sexual partners
  • practice monogamy
  • choose your sex partners with care
  • know the signs and symptoms of STDs
  • don't share vibrators or other sex toys
  • think about your alcohol and drug use

Local STD Testing and STD Information

A person with an STD should seek immediate medical help. Local health departments are the best places to have testing for STDs. Many counties also run free STD clinics for their local citizens. Anonymous STD testing is also available in certain clinics. National HIV and STD Testing Resources help STD patients to locate HIV and STD testing and STD vaccine centers around the United States.

The American Social Health Association, Center for Young Women’s Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are some of the reputed organizations that offer information on STD and sexual health.

Prevention is always better than cure. Safe sex, regular STD screening and Pap tests for women between 21 and 66 years help to prevent STDs to a great extent. STD vaccination is now also available to prevent two specific STDs: HPV and Hepatitis B. Once a person is diagnosed with a STD, his/her sexual partner should also be informed so that he/she can have the STD diagnosed and treated if required.

Mark Riegel, MD

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