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Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment

Sex is definitely one of the best things about life on this planet, but it doesn t always lead to pleasure and happiness. Sometimes, sex transmits extremely horrific diseases. These diseases are better known as STDs or Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

According to the WHO, an estimated 1 million new STD cases occur around the globe every day. The numbers are definitely on the high side for a low-income country like India where sex is a taboo topic, healthcare services are scarce and most people are unlikely to visit a doctor for their private problems.

So, we'll try and answer some of the most often asked queries about STDs:

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What are they? How can I get them?

The term STDs or Sexually transmitted diseases refer to diseases that are transmitted by some form of sexual contact or another including kissing, oral, anal or vaginal sex. Most of these diseases aren t just spread exclusively by sexual acts and can follow other routes like touching, mother to infant, intravenous needle use, blood transfusion, etc. Some of the common ones include syphilis, gonorrhoea, herpes, genital warts and of course HIV/AIDS.

How do I know if I have an STD?

Different kinds of STDs have different symptoms but some of the more common ones include -

  • Itching and redness in the genital area
  • Rashes, pimples, ulcers and lesions usually in the genital area or other areas like hands or mouth
  • Pain during intercourse and urination
  • Abnormal discharge from the penis or vagina

The dangerous thing about STDs is that they can be asymptomatic. That is you could be carrying an infection without knowing and might unknowingly pass it down to a sexual partner.

The symptoms of HIV/AIDS too are remarkably similar to flu like fever, headache, cold and fatigue. The other graver symptoms don t appear for years in which time the disease progresses to a very advanced stage and can be spread to other individuals. If you see any of the aforementioned symptoms or think you might have an STD it s imperative to visit a doctor and go for some standard tests to be figure out further course of treatment.

How much time after the sexual act do the symptoms appear?

There s no set timeframe for this. Some symptoms can appear within 2 days while some are asymptomatic for a long period of time and never appear. For example HIV/AIDS has an incubation period that lasts for years and the only way to find out your STD status is by going for regular tests.

Are there any sexual acts/positions that make me more vulnerable to STDs?

Unprotected sex of any form oral, anal and vaginal can spread STDs. Even condoms or other barrier methods aren t 100% effective. Most experts however believe that among the three, oral is the least dangerous. Anal sex on the other hand is considered the most dangerous form of sexual act for transmission of STDs due to the presence of a large number of microbes in and around the anal area. Add to this, the fact that most people don t use condoms for anal sex. And even when they do, there's a greater risk of breakage because of friction.

What kind of a doctor should I see for an STD?

Most general practitioners should be able to test and advice people for the various STDs. He/she might also recommend you to a venereologist doctors who specialise in treatment for STDs.

How do I get tested for an STD?

There are various kinds of STD tests depending upon the disease you have it can be a blood test, oral swab, test of vaginal or penile discharge or a simple physical exam. Most STDs take some time to register and the tests might show negative results. A negative result is therefore never 100% effective to predict your STD status.

What do I do if I am diagnosed with an STD? What is the treatment?

There are various treatments for STDs. While some can be treated with antibiotics and anti-retroviral treatments, others like HIV/AIDS needs lifelong anti-retroviral therapy. Some like Hepatitis have vaccines. If diagnosed with an STD one should avoid any form of sexual activity for a while and ideally inform all the partners they ve had.

How do I prevent them? Do they have any vaccinations for these?

The best method to prevent STDs is complete sexual abstinence. When this is not feasible the next best option is condoms. However, condoms aren t always 100% effective because they may not cover some of the infected areas. If one is affected by an STD, it s the patient s duty to inform their sexual partners. To keep STDs at bay one should avoid risky sexual behaviour like sex with prostitutes or strangers. Additional ways to reduce your risk include avoiding having sex during a woman s menstrual period and to use condoms for anal sex as well. Some STDs like Hepatitis B and C have vaccines which can help prevent their spread. The human papillomavirus virus (HPV) which causes cervical cancer in women also has some vaccines which are given to girls before they hit puberty but there s some controversy involved as the vaccine doesn t protect against all forms of cervical cancer. In some countries these vaccines are given to males and older women as well. Most of these vaccines are usually administered during childhood.

Should I tell my partner I had an STD? Will he/she get to know? Should I ask my partner?

Always tell your partner if you have or ever had an STD. Many STDs are asymptomatic and therefore might not show any symptoms and it s therefore very important to inform all your sexual partners. Responsible sexual behaviour also dictates that you ask a person if they ve had any STDs before you participate in any sexual activity.

How do I confirm I do not have an STD anymore?

The same tests that determine whether you have an STD can also determine whether you have been cured of them.

What if I do not consult a doctor for them? Can I just let them be?

No. If left untreated they can lead to serious complications. Depending upon the STD it can lead to a variety of complications like infertility, brain damage, heart disease, birth defects, failure of the immune system, increased risk to some types of cancer and even death.

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