Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that can cause long-term health problems. Having an STD also increases your risk of getting HIV. If you think you are at risk with any of these sexually transmitted diseases, please get tested early because early treatment will do the least harm.
These two infections often occur together. They can occur at any age, but women ages 25 years and younger are at a higher risk. These infections are caused by bacteria, and can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Infections can occur in the mouth, reproductive organs, urethra, and rectum.
Symptoms are often very mild or nonexistent. They may present anywhere from 2 days to 3 weeks after infection. The most common symptoms for women include yellow vaginal discharge, painful or frequent urination, vaginal bleeding between periods, and rectal bleeding or pain. In men, the common symptoms are discharge from the penis, pain and burning during urination, and rectal bleeding or pain.
To diagnose gonorrhea or chlamydia, your doctor may take a sample of cells from a potentially infected area. These infections can also be detected with a urine test. Both gonorrhea and chlamydia are treated with antibiotics. If you have gonorrhea, you will likely be treated for chlamydia as well. Gonorrhea requires an antibiotic shot and pills. Chlamydia requires antibiotic pills. All of your prior sex partners from the last two months must also be treated. You are still contagious while you are being treated.
Gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause various problems. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection that occurs when bacteria travels from the vagina and cervix up into the uterus, ovaries, or fallopian tubes. If a woman contracts gonorrhea or chlamydia and is not treated, within a few days or weeks, she may develop PID. This can lead to long-term problems like infertility. Symptoms of PID include chills, fever, and pelvic pain, although these symptoms may take a while to present themselves. The scarring from PID can increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy. Without fast treatment, an ectopic pregnancy can cause a fallopian tube to rupture which is life-threatening. Even after treatment for PID, chronic pelvic pain may remain.
Syphilis goes through different stages. In its primary stage, it is a painless sore that disappears in 3-6 weeks. Without treatment, syphilis will go into the second stage when a rash will appear, usually on the soles of the feet and palms. Flat warts may also appear on the vulva and one may experience flu-like symptoms. During this stage, the infection is highly contagious. When the rash and symptoms go away after weeks or months, the infection has entered the latent stage. The disease is not gone and is still contagious. It also may return in an even more serious form years later. It can cause heart problems, neurologic problems, and tumors. These can lead to brain damage, blindness, paralysis, and death.
During the primary stage, discharge from the open sores can be examined to see if the syphilis bacteria are present. In later stages, a blood test can check for antibodies to the bacteria. Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics. Length of treatment is dependent upon how long a person has been infected. For those who have had the disease for less than one year, only one course of treatment is needed. For those who have been infected longer, additional treatments will be necessary. Sexual contact should be avoided during treatment and previous sexual partners will also need treatment.
There are steps you can take to prevent getting infected with an STD. First, use a condom. Both male and female condoms are sold over the counter at drug stores. You can also limit your sex partners. It is also important to know and trust your partner. Ask about their sexual history and whether or not they have been tested for STDs. Even if they do not have symptoms, they may still be infected. Always avoid contact with any sores on the genitals.
It is also smart to be tested annually for gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis, especially if you are under 25 years old. If you are over 25, but have certain risk factors, you should also be tested annually. Risk factors include having had more than one sexual partner, having a sexual partner who has had more than one sexual partner, having sex with someone who has an STD, having a history of STDs, and having a developmental disability.