A sexually transmitted infection (STI) is exactly that: an infection that gets passed from one person to another through sexual contact. STIs are distinguished from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) because STIs, for the most part, can be cured. An STD, on the other hand, is usually a viral condition and, unfortunately, once you contract a virus, you cannot “cure” it. You can only control it, usually through medication and by taking good care of yourself.

There are four infections that are classified as STIs: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis. All STIs can be contracted by both men and women when they engage in direct sexual contact with someone who has the condition.

So, if an STI can be cured, why should you worry about it? Well, there are some valid reasons. Many of the people who have these infections do not know that they have them. That might sound great, but really, it makes these infections even more dangerous. This is because, if you do not know you have an infection, you are likely to spread it. And you are also unlikely to seek medical treatment. This means that the infection stays in your body, and may eventually cause some pretty serious and long-lasting health problems. Let’s break each of these infections down.

1: Chlamydia Trachomatis

Chlamydia trachomatis is a disease caused by a specific bacteria. Some people may experience no symptoms, others will experience mild symptoms, and some will exhibit very prominent symptoms. These can include painful urination; a discharge from the vagina, penis, or rectum; painful intercourse; and, for women, bleeding between periods. While the infection can be treated effectively with antibiotics if diagnosed, if left untreated, it can cause severe infection and even permanent internal damage. 

For women, untreated chlamydia can lead to damage of the fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus, and cervix, increasing the likelihood of having ectopic pregnancies or even causing infertility. For men, it can infect the prostate gland, cause swelling and pain in the scrotum, induce fever, and cause pain during and after intercourse. It can increase the risk of developing reactive arthritis and, if left untreated in women, the infection can be spread to a baby during delivery, causing pneumonia or serious eye infections. 

2: Gonorrhea 

Gonorrhea is also caused by a specific bacteria. Like chlamydia, in many cases, no symptoms develop, but if symptoms do develop, they are similar: discharge, painful urination, swelling, and pain in the pelvis or, for men, the testicles. If untreated, the bacteria can ultimately infect other parts of the body, including the rectum, joints, eyes, and throat. It can cause rashes, skin sores, swelling, and stiffness of the joints, increase your risk for HIV/AIDS, and lead to infertility in both men and women.

3: Syphilis

Syphilis is another bacteria-borne infection. It usually starts with a small sore at the site of the infection. The sore may go unnoticed or ignored, as it is not painful, but more sores can develop. A few weeks after the sores have healed, a rash may break out over the entire body, accompanied by wart-like sores in the mouth and/or genitals.

When diagnosed properly, syphilis can be treated with penicillin, but when it is undiagnosed – usually because a person does not exhibit obvious symptoms or fails to treat it – it can become latent in the body. This can cause a host of serious problems, including damage to the brain, nervous system, eyes, liver, and heart. It increases your risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, as well as increasing your risk for blindness, hearing loss, stroke, dementia, and several other debilities as you age. It can also cause severe problems in babies born to women who have the infection.

4: Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is caused by a parasite, not a bacteria. More women than men experience symptoms, which can include a foul-smelling discharge, genital itching, burning, redness, and painful urination. For men, symptoms include itching or irritation inside the penis, painful urination or ejaculation, and discharge. Having trichomoniasis makes it easier to contract HIV, and increases the likelihood of contracting cervical cancer (in women) or prostate cancer (in men). If left untreated, the infection can last for years.  

The Keys to Dealing with STIs: Prevention, Testing, and Treatment

Having to deal with an STI is not something you want to experience, so arming yourself with knowledge is critical. 

Prevention can be accomplished in several ways. The most reliable is abstention from sexual activity. Given the number of people with STDs or STIs – one in five – abstinence should be considered in many situations if you care about your health. This is especially true when it comes to anyone whose health history or condition is unknown. Another way is to use a latex condom every time you have sexual intercourse, to avoid skin-on-skin contact. Although condoms are not completely reliable for prevention, they offer more protection than not using one. 

Testing is also critical, especially because many people are unaware of whether they have one of these infections. If you are engaged in sexual activity and exhibit any of the risk factors–multiple sexual partners or not using condoms, for example – you should get tested regularly, even if you exhibit no symptoms. 

Finally, if you do test positive for one of these conditions, make sure you obtain medical care right away. The longer the infection remains in your body, the more damage it can do to your long-term health outlook, and the more likely it is that you will spread it to others or even to your own offspring.

If you believe that you may have an STI, or even if you just want to make sure based on your sexual history, come to Choices. We offer low-cost testing for STIs and STDs in a non-judgmental and caring environment. Your health and well-being are too important to leave to chance, particularly when you can get confidential, low-cost testing easily and conveniently. Contact Choices today and set up an appointment.