Sexually Transmitted Infections
What are STIs?
STIs or sexually transmitted infections are infections which are passed on from one person to another through having unprotected sex or sexual contact. They’re also commonly known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Anyone can contract an STI no matter their age, gender or sexuality, however, STIs are more common amongst young people and people who have multiple sexual partners.
STI is the collective name for a number of well known, common infections which are transmitted through vaginal, anal or oral sex. It is contact with infected body fluids such as blood, semen or vaginal fluids, or contact with infected skin which results in an STI. There are many types of STIs, some more serious than others and many can be easily cured or symptoms can be managed. STIs can be both bacterial and viral infections which will require different forms of treatment so it’s important to get a diagnosis from your GP or sexual health nurse to ensure that the right treatment is given for the STI, for instance, antibiotics do not work for viral infections.
Types of STI include:
- Genital warts
- Pubic lice
All of these STIs can be diagnosed easily at your sexual health clinic with a simple blood or urine test.
The most common of all types of STI, chlamydia is a bacterial infection known as chlamydia trachomatis. Under 25s are more susceptible to contracting this STI and many will not show any symptoms. More often than not, chlamydia can only be detected through testing. Once diagnosed, chlamydia is treated with antibiotics such as azithromycin.
Gonorrhoea is a bacterial infection known as Neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococcus. Gonorrhoea can infect the cervix, the urethra, the rectum and even the throat or eyes, this is because it is passed through infected semen and vaginal fluid, and if it was to enter these parts of the body they would become infected. Similar to chlamydia, gonorrhoea symptoms are not always noticeable and the infection is treated with antibiotics, usually in a single injection and tablet.
Trichomoniasis is caused by a parasite known as Trichomonas vaginalis. This parasite is passed on through unprotected sex, but not through anal or oral sex. The vagina, the urethra, the head of the penis, and the prostate gland can all become infected with trichomoniasis. Symptoms in women include abnormal vaginal discharge and inflammation, itching and soreness of the vagina, whilst men might experience pain when urinating and swelling and soreness of the foreskin or head of the penis. These symptoms are cleared with a course of antibiotics.
Genital warts is caused by a virus known as the human papilloma virus (HPV) which causes lumps or growths to appear around the genitals. The HPV virus can stay in your body for a long time and can appear again even after treatment, however, some people will never know they have the virus. You can contract genital warts through having unprotected vaginal or anal sex with someone who is infected with the virus. Genital warts are treated with creams, liquids, surgery or freezing.
Genital herpes is a viral infection which is passed on through unprotected vaginal, anal and oral sex. Genital herpes will show as blisters around the genital area and once you contract genital herpes who can have recurrent outbreaks of blisters. There is no cure for this STI but you can be prescribed antiviral medication to shorten the outbreak, as well as cream to reduce the pain.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is spread through unprotected sex and can show symptoms of sores and ulcers on the genitals, anus or mouth, a rash on the hands or feet, white patches in the mouth, skin growths around the vulva or anus, as well as a fever and aches and pains. Syphilis can be dangerous if left untreated and spread to other parts of the body, it should be treated with a course of antibiotics.
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is found in the bodily fluids of an infected person such as semen and vaginal fluid and can therefore be spread through unprotected sex. The HIV virus damages the immune system which leads to life-threatening AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) if left untreated.To prevent AIDS and live normally with HIV, antiretroviral medications are prescribed which are to be taken everyday for the rest of your life.
What are the symptoms of STIs?
Symptoms vary between the different types of STI but there are some general symptoms to look out for which may indicate that you have a sexually transmitted infection. These include:
- Unusual discharge from the vagina, penis or anus
- Lumps or skin growths on the genitals or anus
- Unusual bleeding from the vagina
- A rash
- Pain when urinating
- Blisters or sores on the genitals or anus
- Itchy genitals or anus
If you develop any of these symptoms it’s wise to get a sexual health check up to rule out any STIs. Sometimes the symptoms may be subtle or may not show at all so you may not be aware that you have an STI, however, routine testing can detect this. Symptoms can develop days, weeks, months and even years later depending on the type of STI. The most common type of STI, chlamydia, usually shows symptoms 1-3 weeks after sexual contact and these normally include discharge from the vagina or penis, pain when urinating, pain in the pelvis in women as well as bleeding in between periods or after sex, and men will experience pain in the testicles. The symptoms of genital herpes, however, may develop in as little as 4 to 7 days in the form of painful blisters around the genitals, itching around the genitals and pain when urinating.
HIV is an STI that has different symptoms to the other common types of STI and can be more subtle. The symptoms of HIV are similar to flu with a fever, sore throat, headache, achy muscles and red rash. These will usually last a couple of weeks just like flu but the virus will stay in your body forever and cannot be cured. HIV can easily be mistaken for another illness which again highlights the importance of regular testing.
What causes STIs?
STIs are caused by a contagious infection entering the body through contact with skin or bodily fluids which are infected. You can spread STIs through having sex without a condom and the risk is increased if you have multiple sexual partners or are having sex with someone who has multiple sexual partners. STIs can also be spread by sharing needles when injecting with intravenous drugs.
How to get tested for STIs
If you suspect you have an STI it’s important to get tested to clarify if it is an STI and what kind you have so you can be treated correctly. You can get tested at your nearest sexual health clinic or by your GP or nurse. Most STIs are tested with a blood or urine sample but sometimes testing may require a physical examination of the pelvic and genital area and/or a swab of fluid from the infected area.
Can STIs be treated?
Most STIs can be treated easily with medication and be cured, but there are some STIs such as HIV and genital herpes which cannot be cured but the symptoms can be managed. To cure common STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea a course of antibiotics are usually prescribed such as azithromycin which you can buy online at Doctor-4-U. With antibiotics symptoms will usually clear up in a few days but it’s important to finish the course even if you feel that the infection has gone. There are also tablets and creams available to treat the symptoms of genital herpes and warts and minimise outbreaks as these infections can return.
To buy STI medication online you will need to fill out a medical questionnaire which will be reviewed by one of our online doctors to determine your suitability which will depend on whether you have any other health conditions or are taking other medication.
Can STIs cause other health problems if left untreated?
Yes, if left untreated all STIs can lead to complications with your health, some may be life threatening. If HIV is unmanaged it can lead to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) which occurs when the HIV virus has damaged the immune system leaving the body exposed to a number of life threatening illnesses.
Even the common, easy to treat STIs can have complications if they’re not treated quickly enough. STIs can lead to infertility in both men and women, and if a woman has an STI during pregnancy there can be complications such as preterm delivery or miscarriage. A mother can also pass on an infection to the unborn baby which can be fatal and cause them serious health problems in the future.
If the infection is not cleared up it can spread to other parts of the body and cause organ damage. Untreated STIs may also lead to cancer, most commonly cervical cancer.
How to prevent STIs?
It’s important to prevent catching an STI in the first place, one way of preventing STIs is by protecting yourself every time you have sex by using condoms. This is one of the most effective ways of protecting yourself from STIs. If you know you have an STI you should stop having sex until it is cleared to prevent the spread of infection to other people. Be sure to inform any sexual partners so that they can also be treated.
Other ways to prevent STIs include:
- Getting vaccinated against certain STIs such as hepatitis B
- Getting tested regularly
- Avoid having sex under the influence of drugs and alcohol as your less likely to have protected sex
- Reduce your number of sexual partners
Prevention is better than cure when it comes to reducing your risk of contracting an STI, but if you do have an STI getting treated with the right medication as soon as possible is so important to avoid complications.