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Sexually Transmitted Diseases

What is a sexually transmitted disease?

A sexually transmitted disease (STD) is an infection caused by bacteria or a virus. It is also known as a sexually transmitted infection. STDs are spread by oral, genital, or anal sex. Some examples of STDs are chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea. HIV and viral hepatitis are the most common sexually transmitted infections.

What increases my risk of an STD?

  • Unprotected sex: Your risk increases if you do not use a condom during oral, genital, or anal sex. Ask your caregiver for more information about safe sex.
  • Gender: Women have higher rates for getting infected with chlamydia, HIV, and herpes. Especially if they douche frequently.
  • IV drug use: Your risk increases if you share needles with other IV drug users. Your risk also increases if you have sex with an IV drug user who shares needles.
  • Multiple partners: Your risk increases as the number of sexual partners you have increases.
  • Not vaccinated: Vaccines for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and HPV may help to prevent an infection with these STDs.
  • Weak immune system: Another STD or infection, such as a yeast infection (candida), may weaken your immune system and increase your risk for STDs.

What are the signs and symptoms of an STD?

You may have no signs or symptoms. If you do, you may have one or more of the following depending on the STD you have:

  • Blisters, warts, sores, or a rash on your skin that may be painful
  • Discharge from the penis, vagina, or anus that may have a foul smell
  • Fever, muscle pain, or swollen lymph nodes in the groin
  • Inflammation and itching of the skin
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain, or pain during sex or when urinating
  • Sore throat, mouth ulcers, or trouble swallowing
  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting after sex

How is an STD diagnosed?

Your caregiver will examine you and closely look at the affected area. He may ask you about your sexual history or other medical conditions. He will ask you if you have had an STD before. If you are a woman, you may need a pelvic exam to check your vagina, cervix, and other internal organs. You may also need any of the following:

  • Blood tests: These may be done to see if you are infected.
  • Urine test: This may be done to find the cause of your symptoms. It may tell if you are infected with certain STDs.
  • Discharge sample: A sample of the discharge from the affected area is looked at under a microscope or sent to a lab for culture. This will help caregivers learn what is causing your condition.

How is an STD treated?

Treatment depends on the STD you have.

  • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to fight or prevent an STD caused by bacteria. Take them as directed.
  • Antivirals: These are given to fight an STD caused by a virus.
  • Antifungals: These are given for fungal infections, such as a yeast infection.

How can I prevent an STD?

Ask your caregiver for more information about the following safe sex practices:

  • Use condoms: Use a latex condom if you have oral, genital, or anal sex. Use a new condom each time. Use a polyurethane condom if you are allergic to latex. Ask your caregiver for more information about condoms.
  • Do not douche: Douching upsets the normal balance of bacteria are found in your vagina. It does not prevent or clear up vaginal infections.
  • Avoid infected partners: Do not have sex with someone who has an STD. This includes oral and anal sex.
  • Limit sexual partners: Have sex with one person who is not having sex with anyone else.
  • Do not have sex during treatment: Do not have sex while you or your partners are being treated for an STD.
  • Get screening tests: If you are sexually active, get screening for STDs on a regular basis.
  • Get vaccinated: Vaccines may help to prevent your risk of some STDs. Ask your caregiver for more information about vaccines for STDs.

What are the risks of an STD?

With treatment, your symptoms or infection may continue or come back. If left untreated, you could spread the infection to your sexual partner, especially if you do not practice safe sex. If you are a woman, the infection may spread and damage other organs, such as your fallopian tubes. An STD can also harm an unborn baby. An infection can cause an ectopic pregnancy, or make it difficult to get pregnant. Some STDs may increase the risk of cancer. Some viral infections, such as hepatitis B or HIV, can cause serious illness and be life-threatening.

Where can I find more information?

  • Division of STD Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    1600 Clifton Rd.
    Atlanta , GA 30333
    Phone: 1- 800 - 232-4636
    Web Address:

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.
  • Your signs or symptoms get worse or come back after you finish treatment.
  • You have bleeding or pain during sex.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have genital swelling or pain, or unusual bleeding.
  • You have joint pain, rash, swollen lymph nodes, or night sweats.
  • You have severe abdominal pain.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.