Sexually transmitted infections, also called sexually transmitted diseases, are a wide range of conditions that spread through sexual contact. The carrier agents of sexually transmitted infections can include bacteria, viruses, and parasites. These agents are transferred through direct contact with blood, semen, and other fluids.
Some sexually transmitted infections are also transmitted through other means, such as sharing needles or infected blood transfusions. Patients with sexually transmitted diseases can go long periods without a diagnosis because symptoms are sometimes minimal or not present at all.
Unprotected sexual activity and sexual activity with multiple partners are common vectors for sexually transmitted infections. The infections can lead to a wide range of complications that vary widely in their severity, frequency, and extent.
Due to the wide range of different sexually transmitted infections, many symptoms can include:
- Sores around the genitals, rectal area, or mouth
- Pain during urination
- Discharge from the penis or vagina
- Pain during sexual activity
- Swollen lymph nodes in the groin or otherwise
- Rash on the trunk, feet, or hands
Many patients with sexually transmitted infections prolong visiting a doctor for a diagnosis due to social stigma around the infections. Putting off a visit reduces the chance of effective treatment and can lead to further complications.
You can typically get a diagnosis through blood, urine, and other fluid samples. The effectiveness of each test will vary for different infections, so ordering a full suite of fluid tests is a common decision for a physician to make.
In many cases, diagnosis can result from sexually transmitted infection screening. These screenings are standard among those who engage in activity that risks sexually transmitted infection even when they aren’t displaying any symptoms. Proactive screening is a powerful tool for improving the effectiveness of treatment and curtailing the spread.
Treatment will vary depending on the specific type of sexually transmitted infections. Some types cannot be cured through treatment but are instead treated for their symptoms.
Many sexually transmitted infections, such as gonorrhea and syphilis, are bacterial, and antibiotics are an effective treatment. Patients must continue through the entire course of antibiotics, even if symptoms disappear before that point. Patients should also abstain from sexual activity until at least a week after the end of the treatment.
Sexually transmitted viral infections are generally more challenging to treat than those caused by bacteria. Antiviral drugs of varying effectiveness are available. In general, antiviral drugs for herpes and HIV can reduce symptoms and manage the condition, but the patient remains infected.