STIs can vary from causing distressing symptoms to no symptoms at all. If you suspect you may have been exposed to an STI, here is some information you should read before consulting your doctor.
What is an STI?
STIs, sometimes known as STDs, are infections passed from person to person when having vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Three of the most frequently encountered STIs in clinics are chlamydia, gonorrhoea and genital herpes. Other common STIs include anogenital warts, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B, hepatitis C, pubic lice, syphilis and trichomonas.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of each STI can vary, from symptoms affecting the genitals, to symptoms that affect various other parts of the body. The following is not a complete list of all possible symptoms, however these are the common symptoms to look out for:
- Vaginal discharge
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Discharge from the penis
- Sores, blisters, ulcers, warts or rashes in the genital area
- Pain when you have sex or pass urine
- Swelling of the glands in your groin
What are the main STI’s?
Chlamydia is a common STI that can infect both men and women. While vaginal or penile discharge are common symptoms, often no symptoms occur, so you can be infected with chlamydia for years without knowing it. If it is left untreated, chlamydia can cause pelvic infection and it can cause serious, permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system, making it difficult or impossible for her to get pregnant later on. A short course of an antibiotic medicine is usually all that is required to treat chlamydia.
Gonorrhea is another STI that can infect the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes in women, and the urethra in men and women. Gonorrhea can also infect the mucous membranes of the mouth, throat, eyes and rectum. If left untreated, gonorrhea can also cause pelvic infections and potential infertility. A short course of an antibiotic normally clears gonorrhea.
Genital herpes is caused by a virus that stays with you for life but lies dormant with occasional flare-ups (or none at all). Symptoms range from a mild soreness to many painful blisters in the genital area. Genital herpes sores usually appear as around the genital area, rectum, or mouth. Normally the initial episode of symptoms is more severe than recurrent episodes. Antiviral medication can help ease symptoms when they develop.
What should I do if I suspect that I have a STI?
If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above, or if you have no symptoms but are worried you have been exposed to an STI, then you should contact your GP. Depending on the initial assessment and examination, the doctor may advise on some tests. Tests for STIs may include a urine test, swabs or blood tests.
While you are waiting to get checked out or treated, you should not have sex as you may be risking passing on infections to others.