If you have sex, the answer is probably yes.
Sexually transmitted diseases don’t usually stand up and make themselves known with weird rashes, pain, or itching like you’d expect them to. Instead, most are symptomless. So if you have an STD and don’t get tested, it can quietly wreak all kinds of havoc on your body—leading to infertility, cancer, or even death. There’s more bad news, too. Until an STD is treated, the person who has it can transmit it to others.
And STDS are a lot more common than you might think.
Although people don’t often discuss the topic over lunch with friends or even with their doctor, they should—at least when it comes to talking with health care professionals. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show that about 20% of the United States population, or about one in five people, has an STD. It’s the perfect time of year to consider reproductive health anyway, because January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and the STD human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer.
When patients are diagnosed with an STD, they often feel everything from fear to confusion to embarrassment, said Danae Young, a Hancock OB/GYN women’s health nurse practitioner. She says that she diagnoses someone with an STD about once a week.
“I think it’s important for patients to know we don’t judge them. It doesn’t matter what they’re coming in for—we’re here to take care of them. That’s our job,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many patients apologize for coming to see me. But there is no judgment on my part. I’m just honored to be part of their care.”
Young said she encourages patients who are 25 and younger to have annual screenings since people of that age are more likely to have multiple sex partners. But getting tested is a good idea for anyone who’s sexually active—especially if you’re having unprotected sex. In most cases, your doctor can make the tests part of your yearly physical.
The list of STDs your doctor can test for includes:
- Chlamydia: Often symptomless, chlamydia can be passed to others. The infection can be treated with antibiotics for the affected patient and the patient’s sexual partners.
- Gonorrhea: Symptoms include painful urination and abnormal discharge from the genitals, though gonorrhea can be symptomless. The infection can be treated with antibiotics for the affected patient and the patient’s sexual partners.
- HPV: The most common sexually transmitted disease, human papillomavirus, is known to cause cancer. HPV is often symptomless, but symptoms can include warts on the genitals and surrounding skin. Treatment focuses on removing the warts. A vaccine that prevents HPV is recommended for boys and girls, ages 11 and 12.
- Genital herpes: Symptoms include pain, itching, and small sores. After the initial infection, genital herpes often lies dormant in the body but it can be passed to others. Treatment consists of antiviral medication and living a healthy lifestyle. (There’s no good screening for herpes but it can show up in a blood test and herpes blisters can be tested.)
- Syphilis: Symptoms include a painless sore on the genitals, rectum, or mouth. The second stage of the infection is characterized by a rash. Treatment includes antibiotics.
- Hepatitis: These infections can come with flu-like symptoms but Hepatitis C, which causes liver inflammation, often has no symptoms. There is a vaccine for Hepatitis B and medications that can treat Hepatitis C.
- HIV: The symptoms of HIV are flu-like, but they disappear until it progresses to AIDS, which is life-threatening. While there’s no cure for HIV, there are medications that can dramatically slow the disease’s progress, prevent secondary infections, and prolong life.
If getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases isn’t part of your regular health care screening routine, maybe you should consider it. If you’d like to get tested, find out more about how you can prevent the spread of STDs, or have questions about anything related to reproductive health, our experts are always ready to help. Learn more about us at HancockRegional.org/women.