There are more than 20 sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) known to man and their statistical figures are alarming. These diseases are caused by

  • bacteria
  • fungi
  • protozoa
  • viruses

Each disease differs in its symptoms and treatment.

What causes sexually transmitted diseases?

STDs or STIs in men and women can be caused by:

In most cases (9 out of 10), HPV goes away on its own within two years without causing any further health problems. However, when HPV stays and does not go away, it can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer.

There is no cure for genital herpes. However, the use of antiviral medicines daily can reduce or prevent further outbreaks. Almost all diseases are curable except for herpes, which is due to the herpes simplex virus and keeps on recurring even when there is no sexual contact and HPV infection.

Another viral STD that can be fatal is HIV, which later can develop into AIDS.

The predisposing reasons for the transmission of venereal disease are

  • Sexual contact, either oral, vaginal, or anal sex. Generally, the transmission of STDs occurs more commonly through vaginal or anal sex as compared to oral sex.

STDs can also be transmitted nonsexually such as through:

  • The use of shared IV needles especially by drug users. Transmission of HIV and hepatitis also occurs through this mode.
  • Childbirth and lactation (from the infected mother to baby)

It is by these above-mentioned routes that the venereal microorganisms are transmitted from the infected person to the healthy person.

Venereal diseases can infect both men and women. At times, a person who has this disease can have no symptoms and he or she can seem perfectly healthy as far as this disease is concerned.

He or she then can become unknowingly, a dangerous transmitter of this disease. Since without symptoms this cannot be labeled a disease, medical experts prefer to use the term sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Risk factors in men and women

Having unprotected sex is the greatest risk factor that is responsible for contracting STD or venereal disease. Even the use of condoms does not guarantee your safety from these diseases.

Knowing the causes and risk factors empowers you with knowledge and awareness, which is a major factor that will prevent you from catching this disease.

I wish this is discussed at the school level to prevent the young population from falling prey to STDs. People who are at greater risk are

  • Commercial sex workers
  • People who have sex with multiple partners
  • A man or woman who has sex with another person who has multiple sex partners and who is used to unprotected sex
  • People on drugs who do not practice safe sex
  • People who use shared needles such as drug addicts.
  • Young adults: About half the patients with STDs are between the age of 15 and 25 years. This indicates the importance of STD education in schools.

Symptoms in men and women

It is always best to see your doctor when the symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) first appear. Sometimes they disappear on their own and it becomes then difficult to diagnose which STD caused them and what treatment to give. Symptoms vary according to the venereal disease, but broadly they are described below.

At times in spite of having an STD infection, you may not develop any symptoms. This is seen more commonly in women. At such times, you become a potential carrier and threat to others.

Therefore, if you have had sexual exposure of a doubtful nature, you must always visit your doctor and explain your predicament. He will get you investigated at the appropriate time to rule out any sexually transmitted infection.

At times, for example in syphilis, a painless sore appears about 10 to 90 days after you have gotten infected and then disappears without treatment in about six weeks.

This does not indicate recovery if you have not had treatment. It indicates that the spirochetes are there in your blood and multiplying. You then land into the later stages of syphilis, which can cause serious complications affecting the heart and the brain.

Common STD symptoms in men and women include

  • Sores or warts, swelling, and redness near the penis or anus or vagina, or mouth depending on the type of sex involved in
  • Purulent or nonpurulent discharge from the penis or vagina
  • Burning urination
  • Unusual nonmenstrual bleeding from the vagina
  • A gynecological examination may reveal cervical infection
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge the nature of which depends on the type of STD
  • Severe itching near the genitals
  • Skin rash
  • Sex may be painful
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the groin
  • Pain in the testicles in men
  • Blood in semen
  • Lower abdominal pain due to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) due to inflammation of the pelvic organs more so in women
  • Warts around the genital or anal area when you are infected with  human papillomavirus
  • An unusual odor from the genitals
  • Body rash
  • Occasionally fever and body pain

Identifying these symptoms if you have had unprotected sex or even otherwise is important. See your doctor and get investigated and treated PROMPTLY.

Complications

Prompt treatment of venereal diseases can prevent complications. Complications of different STDs vary and they can be short-term and long-term and are often irreversible. You could have mixed infections and complications can arise from them. The effects of these complications are seen both in men and women but are more severe in women.

Complications of STDs tell you the dangers that can affect your health and body. Many a time, these STDs can be silent – meaning that they do not exhibit any symptoms, but you could still be carrying the infection within you, which can then progress and cause health problems.

It is, therefore, in your best interest that you undergo periodic testing. If you are sexually active you must get yourself screened every year. If you are involved with multiple partners, get yourself checked every six months.

This is to catch and treat any sexually transmitted infection you may have contracted in its early stages before any complication sets in. You should also know that the use of condoms does not guarantee complete protection against STDs. However, the correct and consistent use does reduce the risk.

The following are the common complications seen in men and women:

  • Abscess in the groin due to infection of the inguinal lymph glands
  • Eye infection
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease – inflammation of the organs in the pelvis
  • Infertility due to infection of the fallopian tubes can give rise to lifelong pelvic pain
  • Arthritis (usually a complication of gonorrhea and chlamydia) called reactive arthritis commonly affects the joints of the knee, ankles, and feet and less commonly of the hands. It can affect more than one joint.
  • Cervical and rectal cancers are primarily due to the human papillomavirus, which causes venereal warts.
  • Throat cancer due to oral sex – Michael Douglas, the actor tells the newspaper that his specific type of throat cancer is generally caused by HPV, the human papillomavirus.
  • Genital neoplasia (abnormal growth in the genitals) can be benign or malignant.
  • Epididymitis is the epididymis inflammation, the tube that connects the testicle to the vas deferens. This complication is caused by gonorrhea and chlamydia and can rarely lead to sterility.
  • Birth defects caused in the fetus due to maternal-fetal transmission of sexually transmitted infection
  • Complications in pregnancy include ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus eg fallopian tubes) and pre-term delivery