Identifying And Treating Sexually Transmitted Diseases

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Harvard Medical School

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Identifying And Treating Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Identifying And Treating Sexually Transmitted Diseases

If you suspect you have any of the symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or have had unprotected sex, talk with your health-care provider about getting tested for STDs.

Your doctor will first perform a physical examination of your reproductive organs. Women will undergo a pelvic examination and men will have an external genital examination. In addition, your doctor may send specimens collected during the genital or pelvic examination to the lab. He or she may also recommend that you get blood or urine tests as well.

If you are diagnosed with one STD, you should be tested for all other STDs, including HIV, because you can become infected with more than one STD at the same time. Your previous sexual partners should also be tested.

Treatment

Treatment varies depending on the type of STD you have. You should talk to your doctor about how long you should wait before having sex again.

Note: You will become infected again if your partner is not treated for an STD, so it is important that all of your sexual partners — for at least the previous two months — are notified of your infection. You should wait until seven days after you are treated before resuming sexual intercourse.

Curable STDs

STDs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and trichomoniasis can be cured with antibiotics. The type of antibiotic you are given will vary for each disease.

Commonly prescribed antibiotics include penicillin, fluoroquinolones (such as ofloxacin), cephalosporins (such as ceftriaxone), macrolides (such as azithromycin) and metronidazole. These are antibiotics that frequently are given for other infections such as pneumonia and urinary tract infections.

Your symptoms will resolve within a few days, but you should avoid having sex again seven days after you have completed your treatment course.

Incurable But Treatable STDs

STDs such as human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes genital warts and cervical cancer, and herpes simplex virus type 2, which causes genital herpes, cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be treated or prevented with medicine. Warts can be removed with topical medications that your doctor can prescribe for you. Your doctor also can remove them by freezing (cryotherapy). Unusually large warts may be surgically removed. Cervical cancer can be prevented by following recommended screening guidelines.

Genital herpes outbreaks typically last for several days. You can shorten the duration of outbreaks if you take an antiviral medicine, such as acyclovir, within the first two days. If you have multiple recurrences of ulcer disease each year, or you are concerned that you may shed the herpes virus between outbreaks, you can reduce or prevent the development of ulcers and spread of herpes by taking an antiviral medication each day.

Even with treatment, however, any incurable infection may be passed to a sexual partner. Likewise, you are at risk when you have sex with anyone who has had an incurable STD — even if that person has undergone or is undergoing treatment.

HIV

Medical regimens called highly active antiretroviral therapy can suppress the virus and thereby strengthen the immune system. Most patients who stick to their prescribed medical regimens will improve dramatically, with life expectancy extended by decades.

Last updated October 03, 2013


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