Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are those diseases caused by Sexually Transmitted Infections during sexual acts such as oral, vaginal or anal. Many STDs show no symptoms, especially those caused by viral infections. In some, symptoms may show up after certain period (may be after weeks or months). Common STD symptoms in women are:
- Vaginal Itching
- Rashes (Near genitals or elsewhere on the skin)
- Unusual vaginal discharge (may be stinky)
- Pain during urination and sex
STDs if left untreated can lead to infertility and also increases the chances of cervical cancer. The most common STDs in sexually active women and young women are Chlamydia and Gonorrhea followed by Syphilis and Trichomoniasis. Many women may not even be aware that they are infected with Genital herpes and they pass it on to their sexual partners unknowingly. Sexually Transmitted Diseases cause complications such as pain in the abdomen and ectopic pregnancy. (Ectopic pregnancy – pregnancy occurring outside the uterus.)
Common STDs in women
- HPV – Human PapillomaVirus
- Genital Herpes
HPV is the most common STD among women. It increases the risk of cervical cancer. Though there are vaccines available for HPV, they are limited to only certain strains of HPV. However, it is always advisable to get yourself vaccinated for HPV if you are a sexually active person. Chlamydia and Gonorrhea are caused by bacteria, so they are completely treatable with antibiotics. Chlamydia in men can cause Erectile Dysfunction if left untreated.
Common symptoms of STDs in women
- Urination problems – Increased frequency of urination, pain or burning sensation during urination.
- Vaginal discharge – The discharge from an infected vagina usually stinks. The thickness of the discharge varies and the colour too. If it is a yellow or green discharge, that can indicate gonorrhea or Trichomoniasis.
- Itching around the vagina – Just itching alone cannot be counted as a symptom of STD because itching can be caused due to allergic condoms, spermicides used before sex etc. If it is because of an STD, vaginal itching can indicate yeast infection, public lice / scabies, genital warts or early stages of other bacterial or viral STIs.
- Pain during sex – pain during sex can indicate Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). Typically Chlamydia or Gonorrhea, when in advanced stage can cause PID.
- Abnormal bleeding – Another sign of PID
- Rashes or sores – Can indicate viral infection including HPV or even HIV.
How can women prevent STDs?
- Protection – Female or male condoms can lower the risk of contracting Sexually Transmitted Infections. However, you need to be careful with oral sex when performing without a condom. Spermicidal creams, birth control options can prevent pregnancy but they don’t guarantee spread of STDs.
- Abstinence – Having one trusted partner at a time or staying away from sex with unknown people can keep you away from STDs.
- Getting tested regularly – If you are a sexually active person, getting checked up for common STDs can keep you informed if you are infected. If you are infected, you can let your partner know about the problem and both of you can get treated.
What if a woman gets an STD when pregnant?
Women can get an STD even when they are pregnant. It is important that you insist on testing for common STDs when you present yourself to your gynaecologist as a pregnant woman.
Treatment received at the right time can cure you of any (bacterial) STDs and anti-viral therapies can stop viral infections from reaching the baby.
What’s next if you are diagnosed with an STD?
If the infection is due to bacteria, you need to complete the antibiotic course and get rid of the infection completely. You need to inform your partner about the infection so that he/she can get treated too. If you are infected with a virus, anti-viral therapy will be given. Do not indulge in any sexual activities without getting an advice from your gynaecologist.