Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments for Sexually Transmitted Infections

Posted at 5:56 PM on Feb 4, 2022


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “More than 1 million sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are acquired every day worldwide, the majority of which are asymptomatic.” Sexually transmitted infections are diseases that are spread via sexual activity. Therefore, it is extremely important to know your partner’s sexual history. 

We understand it can feel uncomfortable to have open conversations about sexual health, but we cannot stress how important it is to know your partner. You should know if they have been checked/screened for sexually transmitted infections or if they have every tested positive for an STI before engaging in sexual activities.

Education is a big part of being safe. Let us break down how these infections are transmitted, the symptoms, and the treatment options.

What is a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI)?

STIs are infections passed from one person to another through sexual contact. The contact is usually vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Rarely they can spread through other types of physical contact, such as touch or childbirth.

There are more than 20-30 types of STIs, which can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Common types of STIs include:

  • Chlamydia

  • Gonorrhea

  • HIV

  • Trichomoniasis

  • Genital warts

  • Genital herpes

  • Pubic lice

  • Scabies

  • Syphilis

  • Hepatitis

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)

Symptoms of STIs

Symptoms will vary depending on the type of infection. Often there are no symptoms.

Symptoms can include: 

  • Sores or bumps on the genitals or in the oral or rectal area

  • Painful or burning urination

  • Abnormal genital discharge and/or odor

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding

  • Pain during sex

  • Sore, swollen lymph nodes, particularly in the groin but sometimes more widespread

  • Lower abdominal pain

  • Fever

  • A rash on the trunk, hands, or feet

See your doctor immediately if you are sexually active and experiencing any of these symptoms.

Treatment of STIs

Most STIs are treatable and often curable if diagnosed early. Bacterial infections are normally curable, while viral infections may not always be cured, but managed. 

According to the WHO;

  • Three bacterial STIs (chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis) and one parasitic STI (trichomoniasis) are generally curable with existing single-dose regimens of antibiotics.

  • For herpes and HIV, antiviral medications are effective at stalling or slowing the course of the disease, though they cannot cure the disease.

  • For hepatitis B, antiviral medications can help to fight the virus and slow damage to the liver.

  • Hepatitis C is now often curable.

  • Syphilis is curable in its early stages.

HPV is often cleared by the body without treatment. Persistent HPV infection can lead to cancer. HPV infections can be prevented by the HPV vaccine, which is usually given to boys and girls around age 11 or 12 but can be given up to age 26.

Allowing some STIs to progress can lead to serious health complications especially in women. Serious complications can include:

  • Infertility/reproductive health problems

  • Fetal and perinatal health problems

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease

  • Ectopic pregnancy

  • Damage to the nervous system, heart, and immune system

  • Cancer

  • Death

The Importance of Screenings

STIs are often treatable, but many individuals have no symptoms; so, they don’t know that they are infected. This leads to unknowingly spreading the contagious infection to other partners and potentially allowing the disease to progress into something much more serious. Therefore, it is crucial to visit your doctor and get screened for STIs regularly. This is especially important if you have more than one sexual partner and are not in a sexually committed relationship. 

Help prevent the spread of potentially deadly infections by talking to your partner about STI testing. If you’re at risk, schedule regular STI screening appointments with your doctor.