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The Essential Guide to Understanding Sexually Transmitted Infections (Stis)

Dr. Mariam Iqbal

2 min read

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The term ‘Sexually Transmitted Infections’, or STIs, is used to describe a wide variety of medical conditions that are commonly transmitted through sexual contact. However, despite their notorious reputation, most STIs are not sex-exclusive; they can be also be transferred through direct skin contact or sharing personal items like towels, razors, and clothing with infected individuals. You should go to a gynecologist or urologist immediately if you contract an STI.

Types:

STIs range from highly common to extremely rare, with most being fully and easily treatable. Some of the most well-known STIs include:

  • Syphilis
  • Pubic lice
  • Chancroid
  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Hepatitis B
  • Trichomoniasis
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

All of the above infections are spread either through bacteria, viruses, or parasites.

Symptoms:

Most people never experience any symptoms, which is why STIs often go unnoticed until later stages or when a partner is diagnosed. However, symptoms may appear days, or even years, after initial exposure depending upon the type of infection. Some of the most common signs of an STI include:

  • Painful sex
  • Loose stool
  • Night sweats
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Jaundice (yellow skin)
  • Hand, foot, or torso rashes
  • Pain and/or burning while urinating
  • Heavier-than-normal vaginal discharge
  • Genital sores, bumps, or swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever, headache, and general feelings of illness
  • Pelvic pain unrelated to menstruation in women
  • Bleeding and unusual or foul-smelling discharge from the penis or vagina
  • Nausea, vomiting, decreased appetite, and muscle and joint aches (with hepatitis B)
  • Eye inflammation (with syphilis)
  • Genital itching (with pubic lice)

Risk Factors:

While all sexually active individuals are at some risk of contracting an STI, the following factors increase the likelihood of infection:

  • Unprotected Sex without using a latex condom is a major cause of STI transmission. Moreover, condoms that tear during intercourse as a result of inappropriate application also multiply the risk of infection.
  • Having Multiple Sexual Partners, even in case of consecutive monogamous (with one person) relationships, can greatly increase the risk of an STI.
  • Being Forced into Sexual Activity or Intercourse. In such cases, victims must receive urgent testing and screening for any possible STI.
  • Sharing Needles is the prime cause of transmission for numerous STIs like HIV and Hepatitis B and C. Blood transfusion from an infected person can also result in an infection.
  • Recreational Drugs and Alcohol Abuse inhibit one’s judgement, hence making them more willing to participate in risky sexual behavior.
  • Using Prescription Drugs for Treating Erectile Dysfunction, particularly Viagra, Tadalafil, and Vardenafil, as they may affect the protective function of latex condoms.
  • A Previous STI makes contracting another infection later on much more easy and likely.
  • Hormonal Changes During Pregnancy can result in a Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which commonly manifests as genital warts.
  • Being Between the Ages of 15-24.

Complications:

While most STIs are easily and fully treatable, they can still result in multiple mild to serious complications, especially since they present little to no symptoms until later stages. Some common STI complications include:

  • Arthritis
  • Infertility
  • Heart disease
  • Eye inflammation
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Pelvic pain and inflammation
  • Increased risk of cervical and rectal cancer
  • Joint and heart valve dysfunction in case of untreated Gonorrhea
  • Increased susceptibility to HIV in case of an untreated Chancroid infection.
  • Bone, heart, eyes, brain, and nervous system damage in case of untreated Syphilis
  • Immune system weakening and increased risk of contracting other infections with HIV
  • Long-term liver damage and increased risk of liver cancer in case of untreated Hepatitis

STIs and Pregnancy:

Pregnant women with an already active STI may also risk transmitting the infection to the baby, either during pregnancy or delivery, which is why all pregnant women should be tested and screened for STIs early on in the first trimester.

Some of the possible health complications include eye infections and pneumonia in case of Gonorrhea and Chlamydia, miscarriage or stillbirth in can of Syphilis, and even direct transmission of the infection, particularly HIV, Hepatitis, and Herpes.

In most cases, a cesarean delivery may be required to keep the baby from coming in contact with the infectious bacteria or viruses present in the birth canal and vagina.

Make an appointment with your doctor if you suspect any signs of a possible STI and halt any sexual activity until you get a proper diagnosis. You should also consider seeing a specialist for a detailed screening when you first consider becoming sexually active or at age 21; whichever comes first.

You can also book an appointment with a top Gynecologist in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad through oladoc.com, or call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT Doctor for your sexual health concerns.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.

Dr. Mariam Iqbal - Author Dr. Mariam Iqbal is a Gynecologist and Obstetrician in Lahore with experience of 17 years. She has worked at multiple hospitals during her time and is currently a Consultant Gynecologist at Hameed Latif Hospital and an Assistant Professor at Rashid Latif Medical College.
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