Sexually transmitted diseases, as the name suggests, are a disease that is transmitted through sexual contact. STDs are currently rising in both the developing and the developed world.
More than 20 different STDs are known to man, caused by more than 30 different pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites. However, not all of these STDs occur with the same frequency. Some STDs are much more prevalent than others. Gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and trichomoniasis are four STDs that are more prevalent than any other STD in the United States. All four STDs make about 374 million new STD cases each year in the USA.
Each disease is caused by different pathogens and has its respective properties. It pays off well to have a little information about each of these four most prevalent STDs in the US to protect yourself from acquiring any of these infections.
THE FOUR MOST COMMON STDs
As mentioned, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis combined make up an estimated 374 million new infections yearly! While these four STDs are extremely prevalent in the United States and also around the globe, they are, fortunately, easy to cure and do not always cause troublesome symptoms.
Even though these STDs are not life-threatening, they can still cause serious medical complications if left untreated. All four STDs increase a person's chances of acquiring other more serious sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV and Herpes. These diseases can also become more serious, such as pelvic inflammatory disorder, chronic pain, and even infertility.
For these reasons, it is best to learn more about these STDs to prevent yourself and your family from ever acquiring these conditions.
Chlamydia is the most commonly reported sexually transmitted disease in the United States. Each year, more than a million cases of chlamydia are diagnosed, with many cases that go unreported. In 2019, more than 1.8 million cases of chlamydia were diagnosed.
Chlamydia is caused by a bacteria known as Chlamydia Trachomatis. It is usually a mild STD that does not always present with symptoms. However, when symptoms present, these include:
- Painful micturition
- Painful intercourse
- Abdominal pain
- Abnormal vaginal and penile discharge
- Bleeding after intercourse
Since chlamydia does not always cause symptoms, it almost always goes unnoticed until the disease has progressed to a later stage. However, in many patients, chlamydia goes away on its own without the need for any treatment.
Disease progression to a later stage leads to mass inflammation in the pelvis and the reproductive organs - a disease known as a pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID.
PID can lead to catastrophic fibrosis and widespread inflammation, which can cause chronic pain and may even lead to infertility.
Chlamydia can be easily diagnosed with a physical exam and a blood test. A simple course of antibiotics is enough to treat this condition entirely.
Gonorrhea is another sexually transmitted disease caused by a bacteria called Neisseria Gonorrhoeae. Gonorrhea is the second most reported sexually transmitted disease in the United States. Like chlamydia, gonorrhea does not always present with any symptoms.
When symptomatic, patients present with:
- Anal itching
- Abnormal genital discharge
- Rectal bleeding
- Abdominal pain
Since most patients do not have symptoms, gonorrhea often goes undiagnosed and only presents when the disease has progressed to a later stage. In other patients, this disease goes away without any treatment.
Later stages of the disease may present with PID, chronic pain, and even infertility. Gonorrhea can also infect the eyes and cause itching, redness, and abnormal mucoid discharge from the eyes.
An accurate diagnosis can be made with a simple physical examination and a blood test. Based on the physician's clinical experience, a blood test may not even be necessary.
Like all other bacterial STDs, gonorrhea can be easily treated with a simple course of antibiotics.
Traponema Pallidum, a bacteria, causes syphilis. Syphilis is also one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the United States, along with chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis.
Unlike gonorrhea and chlamydia, syphilis is a slightly more troublesome disease. While most patients do not experience any symptoms after getting infected, those who do often experience painful and menacing symptoms that do not easily disappear.
Symptoms of syphilis appear in four distinct stages. These stages include primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary syphilis. Initial symptoms appear after 2-3 weeks of the incubation period.
Primary syphilis is characterized by the appearance of painless sores at the site of infection. These sores are called chancres and may even resemble a common cold's sores. This is the reason why syphilis usually goes undiagnosed in its primary stage.
Some patients develop only 1 sore at the site of infection. Others develop multiple sores. Almost all of the sores or chancres resolve on their own after 3-6 weeks.
Secondary syphilis presents with specific symptoms; in this stage, most patients with syphilis are diagnosed. Symptoms include a patchy rash on palms and soles, patchy hair loss, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, and fatigue.
The third stage of syphilis is called the latent stage because most symptoms go away on their own. While this may seem beneficial for the patient, the underlying disease is still present and may progress without proper treatment.
The final stage of syphilis is called the tertiary stage. The tertiary stage of syphilis is especially troublesome because it can cause irreversible nerve and brain damage along with other end-stage organ dysfunction. Moreover, the tertiary stage of syphilis may not even be curable.
An accurate diagnosis can be made with simple blood tests. All stages of syphilis, other than the tertiary stage, are completely curable with a course of antibiotics.
Trichomoniasis, or simply trich, is a parasitic sexually transmitted disease caused by Trichomonas Vaginalis. This disease affects older women of African American descent more than any other demographic.
Trichomoniasis does not always cause symptoms and usually goes away on its own. However, trichomoniasis dramatically increases an individual's chances of acquiring other sexually transmitted diseases.
Symptoms of trichomoniasis include:
- Greenish yellow vaginal discharge
- Genital itching and burning
- Painful micturition
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Increased urinary frequency
Men with trichomoniasis may experience:
- Penile itching
- Whitish penile discharge
- Painful intercourse and painful micturition
Diagnosis can be made with a physical examination and microscopic examination of vaginal or penile discharge. Genital discharge can also be cultured for an accurate assessment. Nucleic acid tests may also help make a diagnosis.
Trich can be treated easily with Metronidazole. About 20% of patients who receive treatment may get reinfected with trich about 3 months after successful treatment.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE AN STD?
If you think you have been exposed to any of the STDs mentioned above, or if you develop any symptoms stated here, make sure to visit your healthcare provider.
Your healthcare provider will ask a few questions about your physical health. They will also enquire about your sexual behaviors, including the number of sexual partners you have been active with recently.
Your healthcare provider will then perform a physical examination, which may include a detailed look at your genitals and other sides where you may have developed any symptoms. Your physician will then collect samples from your genitals and also blood samples, if needed, to make an accurate diagnosis.
If your test results indicate an STD, your physician will start you on appropriate medications. Taking these medications regularly is extremely important, even if your symptoms start to disappear before your treatment ends.
A follow-up test may be needed weeks after completing your treatment to confirm the elimination of the disease-causing pathogen.
WILL MY STD GO AWAY ON ITS OWN?
Some STDs like gonorrhea and chlamydia go away on their own. Sometimes, these diseases do not present even a single symptom.
While some STDs appear to go away on their own, it is never a good idea to hope for your condition to resolve on its own. Getting your condition diagnosed and treated properly is the only sure way to know if you have been cured completely or not.