It’s easy to miss the symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) because they’re often nonexistent or mild and disappear before you notice them. However, just like COVID, you can spread an STD even if you don’t have symptoms.
Another problem with the lack of symptoms? You don’t know if you need treatment to prevent complications.
David Leszkowitz, DO, at White Lake Family Medicine, offers comprehensive men’s and women’s health care, including STD testing and treatment for anyone possibly exposed to a sexually transmitted infection.
Five most common STDs
STDs are transmitted from one partner to another during vaginal, oral, and anal sex. The five most common STDs include:
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Human papillomaviruses (HPV) are so common that nearly everyone sexually active has had (or currently has) an HPV infection. However, it’s not included in the statistical rankings because it seldom causes a problem.
Human papillomaviruses are a large family of viruses. Most of them are low-risk and may cause genital warts, but seldom cause serious problems because your immune system clears the virus out of your system.
However, HPV’s high-risk viruses are dangerous. If they take hold in your body, they cause cancers of the cervix, throat, and anus. HPV causes virtually all cervical cancer cases and most throat and anal cancers. Though rare, HPV also causes penile and vaginal cancers.
Chlamydia is a bacterial STD and the most commonly reported infection. Unfortunately, it seldom causes symptoms, but if it does, you may experience a discharge from the vagina or penis, burning when urinating, and pain during sex.
Sexually active young people, especially women, have the highest risk of developing chlamydia. An untreated chlamydia infection can permanently damage a woman’s reproductive system, making it hard or impossible to get pregnant.
You may be surprised that gonorrhea is the second most common STD. Cases of gonorrhea have been steadily increasing for many years, frequently in adolescents and young adults.
Men and women may have mild, temporary symptoms like pain or burning when urinating and vaginal or penile discharge. Like other STDs, serious problems develop if gonorrhea goes untreated.
In addition to infertility, the bacteria can spread to your joints and other body areas. Babies exposed to the bacteria may lose their vision or develop infections.
Herpes, a viral infection, is the fourth most common STD. There are two types of herpes infections. HSV-1 causes oral herpes, resulting in cold sores around your lips, while HSV-2 causes genital herpes. However, HSV-1 can also spread to your genitals.
You get herpes by coming into contact with an open, blister-like sore. After the blister breaks, the sores are painful and may take a week or longer to heal, and then they’re not contagious.
During your first herpes outbreak, you may have a fever and body aches. The virus stays in your body and can flare up with repeated outbreaks.
The first signs of syphilis are small, painless sores in the area where the bacteria entered your body, typically on your genitals, vagina, rectum, tongue, or lips. The STD spreads when you or your partner touch a sore.
A few weeks after the sores heal and disappear, you develop new symptoms resembling the flu (muscle aches, fever, and sore throat). You may also have a rash and hair loss. After these symptoms heal, the bacteria stay dormant inside your body.
The bacteria reactivate decades later in about 15%-30% of people. Without treatment, the reappearance of syphilis may damage your brain, nerves, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints.
Children, teens, and young adults can get a vaccine that protects them against new HPV infections but doesn’t cure an existing infection.
Other than vaccinations, there are four ways to prevent STDs:
- Don’t have sex (the only sure way for STD prevention)
- Use condoms every time you have sex
- Limit your partners (and be sure you and all your partners get tested)
- Stay in a long-term monogamous relationship (commit to one partner)
Call White Lake Family Medicine in White Lake, Michigan today or request an appointment online if you have questions about STDs. The team provides discrete testing and treatment. (We can cure bacterial STDs and suppress or treat viral infections.)