How do I Know if I Have an STI?

STI deseases

STIs are a common problem worldwide, with more than one million new infections acquired every day. Despite their prevalence, many people have misconceptions or lack knowledge about these infections. It's important to know that most STIs have no symptoms or only mild symptoms, so they may not be recognized. Some STIs like herpes and syphilis can also increase the risk of contracting other infections like HIV. Understanding the basics of STIs can help inform your decisions and precautions related to sexual activity.

STIs are a diverse group of infections that include more than 30 different types of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. They are primarily spread through sexual contact, but can also be transmitted non-sexually, such as through blood, during birth, and during pregnancy through the placenta. The most common curable STIs include syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis, which can be treated with antibiotics. The four most common incurable STIs are all viral infections: HIV, hepatitis B, HPV, and herpes. There is no cure for these viruses, but there are ways to manage and reduce symptoms. If you have any questions about STIs or treatment options, it's best to speak with your healthcare provider.

How do you know if you have an STI?

It can be difficult to know if you have an STI, as symptoms and progression vary depending on the type of infection. Some common symptoms include vaginal discharge, urethral discharge, genital sores, or abdominal pain. However, many STIs have no symptoms or only mild symptoms, so it's important to get tested if you think you may have been at risk of infection. It's important to note that an individual can have an STI for a long time without experiencing any symptoms. Without regular testing, infections may go untreated, leading to health complications and the potential spread of the infection to new sexual partners. Relying on an untested partner to tell you if they have an STI also means relying on all their untested past partners and their past partners, and so on.

What happens when you leave an STI untreated

If left untreated, STIs can lead to serious health complications in addition to the potential spread of the infection to new partners. For example, gonorrhea and chlamydia are major causes of infertility and can increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy. Syphilis during pregnancy increases the risk of stillbirth and death in newborns. STIs can also harm non-reproductive organs. Syphilis can cause damage to the eyes, brain, and nervous system. Chlamydia can cause inflammation of the liver, and gonorrhea can affect the joints and skin. In some cases, such as with HIV and AIDS, untreated STIs can be life-threatening. HPV can lead to cervical cancer as well as cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and throat.

To protect yourself from STIs, there are several steps you can take:

  • Understand your risk of infection by learning about STI basics.
  • Talk to your partner about how you will keep each other safe. Discuss your plans for sexual exclusivity and whether you have both been recently tested for STIs.
  • Use barrier methods such as condoms to decrease the risk of infection, particularly with new or untested sexual partners. This includes external and internal condoms, dental dams, and gloves, and should be considered during any genital contact or when sharing sex toys.
  • Get regular STI tests and retest after new sexual partners to minimize the risk of leaving any infection untreated.
  • Consider taking PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) if you are at increased risk for HIV. PrEP is a medication taken daily to prevent infection with HIV.

Get vaccinated. Vaccinations are available to prevent Hepatitis B and certain strains of HPV.

  • Always be prepared by having barrier methods on hand and a strong understanding of how to use them. This can minimize the opportunities for reconsideration in the heat of the moment.