STDs (or sexually transmitted infections) can be embarrassing and scary. Sometimes patients avoid or delay getting tested for fear of a positive result. However, many patients don’t realize how common STDs are–and how easy many of them are to treat. We can treat many STDs with a simple course of antibiotics if we catch them early. And even STDs that don’t have a cure can be managed with antiviral and other medications. But STDs can have serious health consequences if left untreated. So early detection and regular screening are key.
How Common Are STDs?
Sexually transmitted infections (STDs or STIs) are transmitted from person to person through vaginal, anal, or oral sex and can include bacteria, viruses, and parasites. STDs are more common than many people think. The CDC estimates that one in five Americans had an STD in 2018. That year, there were 28 million new infections, with half of those in people between the ages of 15 and 24. Some common STDs are:
- HPV: Human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection. It often goes away on its own but can sometimes lead to genital warts and cancer. HPV vaccines are now available and have been very successful in preventing infection.
- Chlamydia is a common STD caused by a bacterial infection. More than 3 million people are diagnosed with chlamydia every year. It’s easy to treat with antibiotics, but many patients don’t have symptoms, so routine screening is essential.
- Gonorrhea is another common STD caused by a bacterial infection. It’s easy to treat with antibiotics but can cause significant health problems if left untreated.
- Genital warts are growths on the genital area or anus caused by HPV.
- Hepatitis B is a virus that can cause liver disease.
- Herpes is a virus that causes sores on your genitals or mouth. It’s a common virus, but there’s currently no cure. So once you get oral or genital herpes, the virus remains in your body. However, there are treatments, including anti-virals, to reduce outbreaks.
- Syphilis is another common bacterial infection that causes sores on your genitals. It can be easily treated with antibiotics but can cause significant problems if left untreated.
- HIV and AIDS: HIV is a virus that attacks your immune system and can lead to AIDS. There is still no cure for HIV/AIDS, but today’s treatments can help you stay healthy and live with HIV.
How Did I Get an STD?
STDs are generally contracted through sexual contact (including oral and anal sex) and can be transmitted via blood, semen, or vaginal and other bodily fluids. STDs can also be transmitted in non-sexual ways, including transmission from mothers to their infants during pregnancy or childbirth, through blood transfusions or shared needles. Most STDs cannot be contracted by casual contact. However, Hepatitis B can be transmitted by sharing personal items like razors and toothbrushes.
What Are the Symptoms of STDs?
Painful or burning urination is one of the standard red flags for an STD. According to the Mayo Clinic, other common symptoms include:
- Sores or bumps on the genitals or in the oral or rectal area
- Discharge from the penis
- Unusual or bad-smelling vaginal discharge
- Unusual vaginal bleeding
- Pain during sex
- Sore, swollen lymph nodes, particularly in the groin
- Lower abdominal pain
- A rash over the trunk, hands, or feet
However, some STDs don’t have symptoms or have symptoms that are easy to miss. That’s why routine testing is crucial if you are sexually active.
Are There Over-The-Counter Remedies for STDs?
If you think you have a sexually transmitted infection, see your healthcare provider for accurate diagnosis and treatment. Most STDs are treated with prescription antibiotics and antiviral medications. Supplements and OTC products can help alleviate symptoms and reduce outbreaks of ongoing viral infections like herpes. Diet and exercise can also help prevent outbreaks. However, it’s important to get tested and treated by a healthcare professional and talk with your provider about additional strategies for managing an STD. Basic protocols for preventing STDs include:
- Wear condoms.
- Vaccinate against HPV. The HPV vaccine, initially approved for females ages 9 through 26, is now approved by the CDC for men and women up to age 45.
- Get tested regularly if you have more than one sexual partner.
- Get tested when you become sexually active and before you start having sex with a new partner.
Making an appointment with your primary care provider is an excellent first step if you think you may have an STD. Comprehensive Primary Care offers testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections as one of our core services. Keeping patients healthy with no shame or judgment is a priority. We work to help patients build a trusting relationship with our providers and help them manage their health holistically. Compassionate STD testing and sexual wellness are also important reasons young adult patients should prioritize primary care. Together, we can protect your reproductive and overall health.