Sexually Transmitted Diseases

There are numerous sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, and the consequences of leaving them untreated can be very serious. Treatments may include antibiotic or antiviral medication.

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Common Types of STDs

  • Chlamydia trachomatis — The most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States, chlamydia is caused by bacteria and results in a genital infection. It must be treated with antibiotics, otherwise it can spread to other pelvic organs and lead to chronic pelvic pain and infertility. Your sexual partner will need to be treated also.
  • Herpes genitalis — Another common STD, genital herpes is a viral infection that doesn't lead to chronic pelvic pain or infertility, but can cause very painful and disturbing genital blisters. Antiviral medications can be prescribed that will reduce discomfort. There is no cure for the infection itself, although it may be dormant indefinitely.
  • Venereal or genital warts — Also called condyloma accuminata, genital warts are caused by a virus and can result in abnormal pap smears. Creams and some other medicines can make the warty tissue disappear, but the warts may recur.
  • Gonorrhea — Gonorrhea is caused by bacteria and can be treated with an antibiotic. Both partners need to be treated. Women often don't have symptoms, but vaginal discharge or painful urination may occur. Men are more likely to have discharge and painful urination. Untreated, gonorrhea can spread to other parts of the body and cause serious complications.
  • Trichomonas — This infection can cause foul discharge and extreme itching. Both partners need to be treated with antibiotics.
  • Syphilis — Syphilis isn't as common as the above diseases but can have very serious consequences for women and their babies. It is caused by bacteria and can be treated by antibiotics. Both the woman and her partner need to be treated.
  • HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B — These are viral infections that can be transmitted sexually, from mother to baby during birth, or through infected blood. There are presently no cures for these diseases, but they can be managed with antivirals and other medicines.

    Hepatitis B is a serious liver disease. Vaccine is available to prevent contracting Hepatitis B. HIV/AIDS can destroy the natural immune system, leaving the patient vulnerable to a number of different conditions.
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Symptoms differ depending on the type of STD:

Chlamydia and gonorrhea — Can cause vaginal discharge, painful urination or pelvic pain. Some patients have no symptoms at all.

Herpes — Causes painful, tender blisters on the vaginal or perineal skin. Often the woman will also experience flu-like feelings or a headache, or swollen glands.

Genital warts — Often cause itchy or non-itchy bumps on the vaginal or perineal skin. The woman may feel the warts while bathing.

Trichomonas — Usually causes an itchy, foul discharge.

Syphilis — Can cause a painless ulcer, but often there are no obvious symptoms.

HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B — Can cause many non-specific symptoms, such as fatigue and abdominal discomfort.

If you're concerned that you may have contracted or been exposed to an STD, you will need an examination. We will examine the vagina, cervix and pelvic organs and use swabs to take cell samples to determine if an STD is present. Several tests may be necessary, as many of the STDs can occur at the same time.

Results may take several days, but treatment can often be started at the first visit.

  • Antibiotic and antiviral medications can be given to treat gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, syphilis and trichomonas.
  • Genital warts can be treated in the gynecologist's office or at home.
  • HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B will require referral to specialists for evaluation.

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

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