STDs (also called venereal diseases) are contagious. They are spread through unprotected sex. Since most STDs do not initially cause any symptoms, many people do not know that they are infected. This allows the disease to spread further. On this page, you can read more about the most common STDs, as well as associated symptoms, risks and treatment options.
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What is an STD?
STD is an abbreviation and stands for sexually transmitted disease, i.e. diseases contracted through unprotected sexual contact (sex without a condom). The pathogens (usually a bacterium, parasite or virus) can occur in semen, pre-cum, vaginal fluid, mucous membranes, blood, pubic hair or on the skin. They are then passed on to a partner during intercourse.
STD stands for sexually transmitted disease, whereas STI means sexually transmitted infection. Essentially, the difference is that an STI has not yet developed into a disease. However, STIs can still cause serious long-term health issues if left untreated. That is why every sexually active person should prioritise regular testing.
STD list: what sexually transmitted diseases are there?
STDs are very common. Especially in people who have many sexual partners. Young people under the age of 25 are also at a higher risk of STDs. Below is a list of common STDs:
- Chlamydia. This STD is caused by the chlamydia trachomatis bacterium which can cause infections in the urethra, cervix, rectum or throat;
- Gonorrhea. Caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium. Gonorrhea causes inflammation in the genitals, anus and/or throat;
- Genital Warts. These warts present themselves on or around the genitals and anus and are caused by the HPV virus (human papilloma virus);
- Syphilis. This venereal disease starts with sores on the genitals due to the treponema pallidum bacterium;
- Trichomoniasis. This STD is a parasite that can cause inflammation in the vagina, urethra and bladder;
- Genital herpes. The herpes simplex virus settles in mucous membranes. This virus remains in the body forever and can flare up due to certain factors such as stress, menstruation or a weakened immune system.
- HIV. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) affects the immune system. If this STD is left untreated, the disease can develop into AIDS. HIV is not only spread through unprotected sex, but can also be transmitted through blood contact, for example when sharing contaminated hypodermic needles.
- Genital infections. This refers to infections of the genitals caused by a yeast or fungus. The candida infection is an example of this. Women are more likely to suffer from this condition than men.
You may not notice most STDs at first. Sometimes symptoms only arise at a later stage (after a few weeks). Symptoms that may occur differ for each STD. Men may also experience different symptoms from women. A few common signs of an STD can be found in the list below.
STD symptoms in men
- Pain or a burning sensation when urinating;
- ‘Leaking’ discharge from the urethra;
- Itching, sores or warts on the penis, glans and/or anus;
- Pain in the scrotum.
STD symptoms in women
- Pain or a burning sensation when urinating;
- (Increased) vaginal discharge that looks or smells different;
- Itching, sores or warts on the labia and/or in the vagina or anus;
- Vaginal bleeding after sex or between periods;
- Pain in the lower abdomen.
The trouble with STDs is that there are usually few symptoms. You can check if you have an STD by testing regularly.
Unprotected sex is the main cause of an STD infection. It is therefore a good idea to do an STD test if you have had sex without a condom. This can be done through your GP, but more and more self-tests for STDs are also becoming available.
It is also advisable to do a test if you are showing signs of an STD, even if you used a condom. Some STDs can be spread through skin contact or through objects, such as a contaminated towel. Always do an STD test immediately if you learn that a (former) partner is infected with an STD.
If the result is negative but you continue to have symptoms, you should consult a doctor. If the result is positive, seek treatment as soon as possible.
Take the incubation period of an STD into account
Important: it can take a few weeks for pathogens to show up in an STD test. Don’t do any STD testing too early as there is a chance that the result won’t be reliable. This so-called incubation time for STDs is usually stated in the information leaflet that comes with the self-test, but you can also ask a doctor or pharmacist for advice.
Treating STDs with medication
An untreated STD can cause serious health problems in the long term. Chlamydia, for example, sometimes causes inflammation of the fallopian tubes or reduced fertility later on. Syphilis can eventually lead to serious organ damage. And untreated HIV can develop into the more dangerous AIDS condition.
Do not wait too long to test for an STDs and have yourself treated as soon as possible if the result is positive. Delaying treatment is not advisable, even if you don’t have any symptoms (yet). An STD will not heal on its own!
Which medicines should I take for an STD?
STDs are generally treatable. Doctors usually prescribe antibiotics or virus inhibitors to kill the pathogens. In most cases, the disease will disappear and you will no longer be at risk of transferring it to others. Well-known STD drugs include:
- Antibiotics, such as azithromycin, doxycycline and ciprofloxacin. These drugs kill the bacteria that caused the STD. They are used for syphilis and chlamydia infections, among others;
- Virus inhibitors, such as acyclovir and imiquimod. These drugs inhibit the growth of a virus. They are used for the treatment of HIV, genital warts and genital herpes;
- Antifungal medicines, such as fluconazole and clotrimazole. These drugs kill yeasts and fungi, as well as their spores. They are prescribed for genital infections such as candida.
Treating STDs: important information
STD treatment is usually done with prescription drugs. A prescription is necessary since these drugs can cause side effects and are not suitable for everyone.
Side effects that may occur with the use of STD medicines include:
- Gastrointestinal problems;
- Hypersensitivity of the skin to UV radiation;
Please note: if you become infected with an STD, it is important to inform any sexual partner(s). It is important that they also get tested as soon as possible.
If you have an STD infection, it is wise not to have sex until you have successfully completed treatment and are no longer contagious. Always have sex with a condom afterwards to minimise the chance of a new infection.
Do you have questions about STDs or the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases? A doctor or pharmacist will be able help you further.