Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)


Chancroid is a bacterial infection characterized by genital ulcers.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Women usually do not show any symptoms. However, a painful ulcer on the vagina and enlarged, swollen and painful lymph nodes in the groin generally indicate chancroid.

Treatment: Your doctor will examine the ulcer and take a culture to confirm the diagnosis. He or she may also order some blood work. Chancroid is treated with antibiotics. Successful treatment cures the infection, clears up the symptoms and prevents you from infecting others.


Chlamydia is the most frequently reported bacterial STD in the United States.

Signs and Symptoms:

Even though symptoms of chlamydia are usually mild or absent, serious complications can occur, causing irreversible damage – including infertility – before a woman recognizes a problem. If symptoms do occur, they usually appear within one to three weeks after exposure and may include the following:

  • An abnormal vaginal discharge
  • A burning sensation when urinating

As the disease progresses, some women may experience the following symptoms:

  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Bleeding between menstrual periods

Treatment: Laboratory tests to diagnose chlamydia are available. Your doctor will collect a urine sample or take a sample of discharge from your vagina to be tested. Chlamydia can be easily treated and cured with antibiotics. All of your sex partners should be evaluated, tested and treated. You should abstain from sexual intercourse until you and your sex partner(s) have completed treatment to prevent re-infection.

Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is a common STD caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2). Most cases of genital herpes are caused by HSV-2.

Signs and Symptoms:

Many women have either no symptoms at all or minimal signs or symptoms from herpes infections. When signs of the infection do occur, they typically include the following:

  • One or more blisters on or around the genitals or rectum, which then scab over
  • Pain or burning while urinating

Although the infection can stay in the body indefinitely, the number of outbreaks tends to decrease over a period of years.

Treatment: Your doctor can diagnose genital herpes by visual inspection and by taking a culture from the sore(s) to be tested in a laboratory. Blood tests, which detect HSV-1 or HSV-2 infection, may be helpful. But the results are not always accurate. No treatment can cure herpes, but antiviral medications can shorten and prevent outbreaks.

Genital Warts

Genital warts are sexually transmitted skin lesions caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Soft, fleshy, painless growth(s) on the vaginal area, anus, urethra or perineum
  • Growths may also develop on the inside of the vagina or on the cervix

Treatment: Your doctor can diagnose genital warts by visual inspection. For some women, a Pap smear may indicate the presence of HPV; a special microscopic test (called a colposcopy) is used to diagnose flat warts that are difficult to see. Several treatments are available for genital warts – all of which involve applying medication directly to the warts. However, despite treatment, genital warts may recur.


Gonorrhea is a common STD caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which grows and multiplies in the warm, moist areas of the reproductive tract, including the cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes, as well as the urethra.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Burning or pain with urination
  • Yellow or bloody vaginal discharge
  • Low-grade fever
  • Bleeding between periods or after sex

Many women do not know they are infected with gonorrhea because they have no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include the following:

An undetected gonorrhea infection can lead to pelvic infections and infertility.

Treatment: Laboratory tests for gonorrhea are available. Your doctor will collect a urine sample or take a sample of discharge from your vagina to be tested. Several antibiotics can successfully cure gonorrhea. Be sure to take all of your medication to avoid a recurrence. All of your sex partners should be evaluated, tested and treated. You should abstain from sexual intercourse until you and your sex partner(s) have completed treatment.


Hepatitis is a serious virus affecting your liver. There are many forms of Hepatitis; Hepatitis B is the most common form and is often spread through sexual contact. Hepatitis C is spread through intravenous drug use, but it may also be spread though sexual contact. Hepatitis B is the only sexually transmitted disease that can be prevented with a vaccine.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Darkening of the urine

Sometimes no visible symptoms are present.

Treatment: Hepatitis can be detected with a blood test. There is no specific therapy for Hepatitis B; your doctor will treat the symptoms. Hepatitis C is treated through a series of injections to decrease damage to the liver.


HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). HIV may be passed from one person to another when infected blood, semen or vaginal secretions come in contact with an uninfected person’s broken skin or mucous membranes.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • A condition called chronic HIV infection begins three to six months after infection. There are no symptoms, and for most people, this stage of HIV infection lasts about 10 years.
  • Even though there are no symptoms, the immune system slowly becomes impaired, and an HIV positive person will eventually develop AIDS. AIDS itself has no symptoms. Since the immune system is devastated, disease symptoms are specific to the kind of infections a person develops, and doctors prescribe drugs to prevent these infections.

People may not seek medical attention until they have AIDS. They may have some of the following symptoms:

  • Being tired all the time
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck or groin
  • Fever lasting more than 10 days
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Purplish spots on the skin that do not go away
  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe, long-lasting diarrhea
  • Yeast infections in the mouth, throat or vagina
  • Easy bruising or unexplained bleeding

Treatment: Although there is no cure for HIV, you can learn to live with and manage the disease. If you are infected with HIV, your doctor will design a medical care plan for you. He or she will inform you about the risks and benefits of the drugs for HIV and when you need to start taking them. Several drugs are used together to treat HIV, including anti-retroviral medicines. Make sure you take all of your medications exactly as prescribed.

Human Papilloma Virus

The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the most common viral STD in the United States. It is estimated up to half of all sexually active young women are infected with the virus that causes HPV. Certain types of HPV cause genital warts; other types of HPV infection cause no visible warts, and many people do not know they are infected. In addition, HPV is the number one cause of abnormal Pap smear results and may lead to pre- cancerous changes on the cervix. HPV is also the primary cause of cervical cancer.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Most women with HPV have no symptoms. Genital warts may appear several weeks (or even months) after sexual relations with an infected partner, or they may never appear. If you are infected with visible genital warts, they may appear as unusual growths, bumps or skin changes inside the vagina or on the cervix, vulva, perineum, urethra or anus. You may also notice unusual itching, pain or bleeding in the genital area.

Treatment: Regular genital self-examinations may be helpful in detecting visible genital warts. If you notice unusual changes in your genital area, the only way to determine if you have HPV is to see your doctor for a physical exam. He or she will check for visible warts and can also check for subclinical HPV (HPV with no symptoms) by performing a Pap smear. An abnormal Pap smear may be the first sign HPV is present. If your Pap is abnormal, you should be examined further for cervical problems and closely monitored by your doctor.

HPV is a persistent condition – even when there are no symptoms. Since it is difficult to cure HPV, the goal of treatment is removing the visible genital warts and relieving any symptoms. Treatments for visible genital warts include patient-applied therapies and doctor-administered therapies.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) is a general term referring to infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes and other reproductive organs. It is a common and serious complication of some sexually transmitted diseases, especially chlamydia and gonorrhea. PID can damage the fallopian tubes and tissues in and near the uterus and ovaries. If left untreated, PID can cause serious consequences, including infertility, ectopic pregnancy, abscess formation and chronic pelvic pain.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Symptoms of PID vary greatly. If PID is caused by chlamydial infection, you may experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Since the symptoms are subtle (or sometimes nonexistent), PID may be difficult to recognize and diagnose.
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Unusual vaginal discharge (may have a foul odor)
  • Painful intercourse
  • Painful urination
  • Irregular menstrual bleeding
  • Pain in the right upper abdomen (rare)

Treatment: Because there are no precise tests for PID, a diagnosis is usually based on clinical findings. If symptoms such as lower abdominal pain are present, your doctor should perform a physical examination to determine the nature and location of the pain. He or she should also check for fever, abnormal vaginal or cervical discharge and for evidence of gonorrheal or chlamydial infection. If the findings suggest PID, treatment is necessary. PID can be cured with several types of antibiotics. Your doctor will determine and prescribe the best therapy for you. However, antibiotic treatment cannot reverse any damage to the reproductive organs, which may have already occurred.


Syphilis is an STD caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Many people infected with syphilis do not have any symptoms for years, but they remain at risk for complications if they are not treated. The primary stage of syphilis is marked by the appearance of a single sore (called a chancre). The chancre is usually a firm, round, small, painless lesion, which lasts one to five weeks and then heals on its own. If inadequate (or no) treatment is administered, the infection progresses to the secondary stage – marked by the development of a rash, which often appears as rough, reddish-brown spots on the hands and feet.
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sore throat
  • Patchy hair loss
  • Headaches
  • Weight loss
  • Muscles aches
  • Fatigue
  • Late stage symptoms include poor muscle movement, paralysis, gradual blindness and dementia.

Treatment: Your doctor may be able to diagnose syphilis by examining material from a chancre under a special microscope. A blood test can also detect syphilis. Syphilis is easy to cure in its early stages. A single injection of penicillin will cure a person who has had syphilis for less than a year. Additional doses are needed to treat someone who has had syphilis for longer than a year. If you are allergic to penicillin, other antibiotics are available to treat syphilis. Treatment will kill the syphilis bacterium and prevent further damage. However, it cannot repair any damage that has already occurred.


Trichomoniasis is a common STD affecting both women and men – although symptoms are more common in women. The disease is caused by a parasite.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • A frothy, yellowish-green vaginal discharge with a strong odor
  • Discomfort during intercourse and urination
  • Irritation and itching of the genitals
  • Lower abdominal pain (rare)

Treatment: Your doctor must perform a physical examination and a laboratory test to diagnose trichomoniasis. A pelvic examination can reveal small, red ulcerations on the vaginal wall or cervix. Trichomoniasis can usually be cured with a prescription drug given orally in a single dose. Both partners should be treated at the same time. You should abstain from sex until you and your sex partner(s) complete treatment and have no symptoms.


Although abstinence is the only way to prevent your risk of becoming infected with an STD, you can protect yourself by using condoms every time you have sex. It is important to be proactive about your health. Make sure you have a Pap smear once a year, ask your doctor to test you for STDs and discuss any concerns you may have regarding your sexual health.

You can obtain more information about STDs at: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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