STDs or Sexually Transmitted Diseases are also often known as Sexually Transmitted Infections or STIs. These diseases are of infectious type, and they spread from person to person through sexual contact- vaginal, anal, and oral.
Primarily, they spread through fluids in the body. Some STDs also spread through blood by means of sharing infected injection syringes. Pregnant women may infect their children during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.
STDs occur due to various pathogens like bacteria, viruses, or parasites, which can either enter the body system or can grow on the skin surface.
Some STDs are curable and some are not. For the ones that are not curable yet, worry not… there are medications to manage or reduce their effect.
STDs can be scary, but that shouldn’t have to scare you from getting that tattoo you like!
Right information goes a long way.
There are more than 20 types (Just too many in number!) of STDs, but some of the most common ones that infect women are:
- Genital herpes
- Pubic lice
How do STDs spread?
- Having sex without protection with someone who’s already infected
- During genital touching. One can contract Syphilis and Herpes without having sex
- From a mother to her infant during breastfeeding
- To the unborn inside womb during pregnancy
- Sharing an infected needle
These diseases affect women in more severe ways, causing more serious health problems than they cause men.
How do STDs affect women?
- A mother can transmit STD to her baby during pregnancy, causing complications during delivery or even permanently affecting her baby’s health.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) affects the moist mucus membrane lining inside the body (cervix, anus, mouth, and throat.) HPV causes cervical cancer- the fourth most common form of cancer among women.
- Herpes, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis can increase the risk of contracting other serious STDs like HIV.
- Hepatitis B results in deaths, mostly from cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (causing damage to the liver).
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility, are caused by STDs like Gonorrhea and Chlamydia.
Symptoms of STD
- Sensation of pain or burning during urination.
- The need to pee more frequently.
- Presence of blood in the urine.
- Unusual discharge from the vagina and odor: differently colored discharge is indicative of different things. A discharge that is white in color can be a sign of a yeast infection. Yellow or green colored discharge may indicate Gonorrhea or Trichomoniasis.
- Itching or redness in the area around the genitalia.
- Abdominal or pelvic pain, an often-overlooked symptom, can be a sign of PID.
- Abnormal bleeding: a probable sign of reproductive problems caused by an STD.
- Sores or rashes around the vagina
- Allergic reaction to condoms
- Yeast infection
- Pubic lice or scabies
- Genital warts
Most STDs are asymptomatic or have symptoms that are very mild in nature. It is often the reason why they are mistaken for something else, such as a urinary tract infection or yeast infection.
Pregnant women need to pay special attention:
Pregnant women face the same problems due to STDs as other women do.
Having an STD can also hurt the unborn baby’s health, to the extent that it may even cause prenatal death.
Because of their highly asymptomatic nature, a majority of people don’t realize that they’re living with an STD. This makes it essential for an early diagnosis and discovery during pregnancy. A standard medical practice by doctors is to suggest and carry out a full STD panel test at the beginning of pregnancy, and in other stages of pregnancy too, if needed.
Doctors are extra cautious with pregnant women in this regard because having an STD during pregnancy can lead to:
- Premature labor: Preterm birth is the number one cause of infant death, and can even lead to long-term developmental and health problems in children.
- Uterus infection after birth.
How do babies get infected?
Some STD pathogens, like syphilis, are capable of crossing the placenta and infecting the baby in the womb itself. Pathogens of Gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B, and genital herpes, can transmit to the baby while it passes through the birth canal. The virus that causes HIV/AIDS, too, can cross the placenta during pregnancy and infect the baby during delivery.
How do STDs affect the baby?
- Low birth weight
- Eye infection
- Infection in the infant’s blood
- Possible damage to the brain
- Lack of coordination in body movements
- Acute hepatitis
- Chronic liver disease (cirrhosis)
Breastfeeding while being infected with an STD:
Some STDs affect breastfeeding, and some don’t. In the case of HIV, it is strictly advised not to feed the baby as the mother may pass on the virus through the process of breastfeeding. Once an STD has been detected, it is important to breastfeed only after consulting the doctor, who may give suggestions depending on the type of infection after testing you.
Testing for STD
- Pelvic and physical exam: The doctor looks for physical signs of infection, for example, warts, rashes, or discharge from genital openings
- Blood test
- Urine test
- Fluid or tissue sample
Prevention is always better than cure, but how do we prevent a disease that is so covert and asymptomatic?
- Apart from providing protection against unintended pregnancy, condoms are the most effective means to avoid STDs. Including the deadly HIV. Correct and regular usage of condoms is always recommended.
- Certain new inventions like female condoms and dental dams can provide protection to some extent.
- Contraceptive pills, also known as birth-control medications, may provide protection against pregnancy, however, they prove to be ineffective against STDs.
- Taking vaccination provides your body with a shield to fight against infections from pathogens and luckily there are available vaccines for two viral STDs like Hepatitis B and HPV.
- Practicing monogamy or limiting your number of sex partners significantly reduces the risk of contracting STDs.
Treatment for STDs
Here comes the critical part, which is the treatments available for STDs,
- Bacterial STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and parasitic STD trichomoniasis are curable with antibiotics.
- The available medications for Herpes and HIV cannot cure them, but can most certainly bring their symptoms under control.
- Antiviral medications are available for Hepatitis B that can help in fighting the virus and slowing down the damage caused to the liver.
There are a lot of stigmas around STDs. But the key to their prevention and cure lies in proper communication with your partner and the doctor. Arming oneself with proper knowledge is an additional layer of protection against these highly infectious diseases.
It is also a person’s moral duty to inform their sexual partner in a situation where an STD has been detected in them. Women in particular need to be extra careful because their personal stakes are high, compared to that of men.
Couples planning for pregnancy must definitely get checked before conceiving. A cautious approach and good communication will ensure not just the mother’s health but the baby’s health too.
Being sexually active should be reason enough to regularly consult the doctor. You may feel embarrassed, or think that your sex life is too personal to be shared with anyone, but being open and honest is the only way your doctor can help take care of you.