Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are widespread illnesses, but symptoms and presentations can be subtle. Here is a primer on when to suspect an STI and how to manage it.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or venereal diseases, are rising in the United States. In fact, a recent study showed that 20 percent of Americans are infected with an STI. Young adults are particularly vulnerable to contracting an STI, but no age group is spared.
Read on to learn more about the seven most common sexually transmitted infections and what to do if you are experiencing STI signs or symptoms.
So what are Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)? Sexually transmitted infections are diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites. STIs are spread via sexual contact, which includes oral, vaginal, penile, or anal touching. Sexually transmitted infections disproportionately affect women, and they can have serious implications for pregnant women and their unborn children. Some, but not all, sexually transmitted infections can be prevented by using a condom.
What Are the Most Common Sexually Transmitted Infections?
The most common STIs in the United States are as follows:
- Human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause genital warts
- Genital herpes (herpes simplex virus type 1 or type 2)
Other types of infections, such as Hepatitis B virus (HBV) or pubic lice, can also be spread by sexual contact.
What Are the Symptoms of Sexually Transmitted Infections?
The symptoms of STIs vary widely and can overlap with other medical conditions. Many people with an STI may have no symptoms at all. Because they are unaware that they are infected, they risk passing their STI on to others during sexual activities.
When people do have symptoms of STIs, they may include the following:
- Burning with urination
- Urinary frequency or hesitancy
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Abnormal vaginal or penile discharge
- Vaginal bleeding
- Genital itching or burning
- Genital warts
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Genital odor
What Are the Characteristics of Sexually Transmitted Infections?
Each of the most common STIs has particular distinguishing characteristics. A clinician will keep these characteristics in mind when formulating a diagnosis. Here is a breakdown of the signs, symptoms, and risks of specific STIs.
How are Sexually Transmitted Infections Diagnosed?
Many STIs are asymptomatic, meaning that people who are harboring them do not have any indication that they are infected. Because they are asymptomatic, many people with STIs do not seek assessment by a medical provider. They may unintentionally spread them to their partners. Some STIs are discovered on routine screenings, such as PAP smears or pelvic exams.
Other methods of diagnosing STIs include:
- Urine analysis
- Cervical, vaginal, or anal swab
- Buccal (mouth) swab
- Blood test
- Skin culture
Combined with a careful sexual history, physical exam, and an STI test, a clinician can diagnose an STI and start to form a treatment plan.
Sexually Transmitted Infection Treatment and Prevention
Sexually transmitted infections can be treated with medications. The most effective way to prevent contracting an STI is to refrain from sexual activity. If you are sexually active, we have some recommendations to reduce your risk of infection.
What To Do If You Suspect a Sexually Transmitted Infection
Discussing details about your private life with your medical provider may feel uncomfortable. Still, if you or a loved one are concerned about the possibility of harboring an STI, it is imperative to seek help. For a comprehensive medical exam or an STI screening, contact Lompoc Health's primary care team today.