Definition and Overview

Sexually transmitted diseases or STDs are diseases that are contracted through sexual intercourse with an infected person. It can be passed on to a sexual partner through any sexual activity involving the vagina, penis, anus, or mouth. These refer to a whole string of different diseases, each with their own symptoms, and some more serious than others. All of them, however, require treatment to prevent further complications and serious danger to the patient’s life.

Types of STDs

The most common sexually transmitted diseases are:

  • Genital herpes – This is a disease caused by the herpes simplex virus, specifically the HSV-2 type. Its most telltale signs are blisters, ulcers, or sores in the genital area, but it can affect a person without causing such symptoms. It can also be spread through skin-to-skin contact even if the infected person does not develop sores or blisters. These ulcers can also develop, disappear, and recur as long as the person has the virus. It can also pass on to an infant if the mother is shedding the virus during childbirth, although this is quite rare. Aside from the physical symptoms, herpes also causes psychological distress to those who have it.

  • Human papillomavirus (or genital warts) – Warts that form in the genital area are caused by HPV or human papillomavirus; another easily transmitted disease and one of the more serious types of STDs. When left untreated, some forms of HPV can lead to cervical, vulval, vaginal, or penile cancer. These warts are flesh-colored or pinkish red growths that can occur in clusters around the sex organs; they have a cauliflower-like appearance and can be small or big. They are not usually painful but can be severely itchy and may bleed when scratched. Although this disease is more commonly known as genital warts, a person can have HPV in his body without getting any symptoms.

  • Hepatitis B – Hepatitis B is a serious disease caused by a virus that can be transmitted sexually. The Hepa B virus can be spread through semen and vaginal secretions, which is similar to how the HIV or AIDs virus is transmitted. Hepa B, however, is more infectious, but those infected can recover completely, unlike most HIV sufferers. There is still a possibility for it to be a chronic condition, especially if the virus carriers do not seek prompt treatment or have a weak immune system. If left untreated, it can cause continuous liver infection and liver cirrhosis or the hardening of the liver.

  • Chlamydia – A very common STD, chlamydia is easy to spread because it has virtually no noticeable symptoms. It is usually only detected when the patient goes in for a regular gynecological checkup with chlamydia testing. Thus, it is important for sexually active individuals, especially those with multiple sexual partners, to ask for a chlamydia screening when they get a checkup. In cases where symptoms manifest themselves, they come in the form of whitish or yellowish discharge from the tip of the penis, frequent urination, burning sensation while urinating, tender testicles, or vaginal discharge with a foul smell.

  • Syphilis – Syphilis is one of the most contagious sexually transmitted diseases and is caused by the Treponema pallidum bacteria. Although it is generally spread through any sexual activity, it is more commonly transmitted through anal and oral sex as the virus can be passed on to another person through prolonged kissing and contact with the sores that the virus causes to appear. However, some of the sores are small and are unrecognizable, so infected people still unknowingly pass on the disease. Syphilis occurs in stages, with an early stage causing just one or two painless sores around the genitals. The secondary stage involves the spread of the rashes usually affecting the hands and feet. The tertiary stage may affect the heart, brain, and nerves, and may even cause death if left untreated. Syphilis also has a dormant or latent stage where it causes no symptoms.

  • Gonorrhea – like HIV, gonorrhea is a disease spread through infected bodily fluids. It is caused by bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which thrives and multiplies in the body’s mucus membranes and in warm and moist areas of the body, such as the cervix, womb, and urethra. This is another tricky condition with hardly any symptoms at all, but it has also been associated with conjunctivitis, vulvitis or swelling of the vulva, and swollen glands in the throat due to oral intercourse. It also causes a mild discharge, which many sufferers mistake for a yeast infection.

  • HIV or AIDs – Considered as the most serious sexually transmitted disease, this disease is known as the human immunodeficiency virus, more commonly known as AIDs. It is characterized by the severe weakening of the immune system, rendering it unable to protect the body from any sickness or infection. This makes patients highly susceptible to illness and unable to fight cancers. This is also a progressive disease that will affect a person throughout his life, although with the right treatment an infected person can live a normal life.

Key Symptoms

Symptoms of STDs differ depending on the specific type of disease. The key symptoms help diagnose which specific type of STD is involved and thus helps determine the form of treatment that is required. The common symptoms experienced by STD sufferers include:

  • Bumps and sores near the vagina, penis, anus, or mouth
  • Warts
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Rashes
  • Painful urination
  • Loose stools
  • Weight loss
  • Aches and pains
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Jaundice
  • Vaginal discharge that’s different or heavier than normal discharge and usually has a foul odour
  • Vaginal bleeding other than menstrual period
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Severe itching

When to See and Types of treatments available

Some types of STDs can be treated at the gynecologist’s office through antibiotic medications. However, for serious diseases, severe cases, or chronic and recurrent symptoms, it is best to seek the help of an infectious disease specialist. All HIV/AIDS patients also need to seek medical attention from an infectious disease specialist to help with the long-term management of the disease.

There is a medical specialty especially dedicated to the treatment and control of sexually transmitted diseases. Known as ID or Infectious Diseases, a medical professional may focus his practice in managing diseases caused by infections that can spread from one person to another. Once a physician chooses to focus on this field, he will be known as an Infectious Disease Specialist. He is considered as a doctor of Internal Medicine, but is mostly focused on the microbiology, management, and prevention of all types of infections, from viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic.

The goals of treatment in STD cases are to:

  • Cure the condition
  • Lessen or relieve the symptoms
  • Prevent the further spread of the disease
  • Keep the patient healthy

The initial course of treatment is through antibiotic medication, and it is usually effective in treating the disease, or even curing it, as long as the patient follows dosage instructions carefully and takes the drugs on time. It is also crucial that the patient continues taking the drug throughout the entire prescribed treatment period even if the symptoms already disappear. A couple who has contracted the disease can also take the medications and be treated at the same time. Additional medications may be prescribed to relieve the symptoms the patient is experiencing. Some STDs, however, require continuous treatment. One example is HIV or AIDs, which currently has no known cure.

References:

  • Geneva Foundation for Medical Education and Research: Genital infections, sexually transmitted diseases: Guidelines, reviews, statements, recommendations, standards.
  • Geisler W. “Duration of untreated, uncomplicated chlamydia trachomatis genital infection and factors associated with chlamydia resolution: a review of human studies.” The Journal of Infectious Diseases.
  • Stamm W. “Chlamydia trachomatis infections: progress and problems.” The Journal of Infectious Diseases.
  • Workowski K., Berman S. (2011). “Centers for disease control and prevention: sexually transmitted disease treatment guidelines.” Clinical Infectious Diseases, Oxford Journals.
  • Newman L., Moran J., Workowski K. (2007). “Update on the management of gonorrhea in adults in the United States.” Clinical Infectious Diseases, Oxford Journals.
  • British Medical Journal: Sexually Transmitted Infections.
  • Journal of the American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association
  • International Journal of STD and AIDS, Royal Society of Medicine Services.
  • AAMC Careers in Medicine: Infectious Disease, Internal Medicine.
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