Don’t Be Embarrassed About STDs—See Your Doctor Now
From chlamydia and gonorrhea to syphilis, herpes, and HIV, testing and treatment are the keys to curing or staying healthy with an STD—and slowing the spread of infection to others. Yet too often, people don’t realize they’re at risk, overlook symptoms, or feel too embarrassed, ashamed, or fearful to get the checks they need.
Talk with your doctor if you have concerns about your risk, if your partner has been diagnosed with an STD, or if you have any possible symptoms—such as pain, sores, a rash, unusual discharge, or bleeding. Here’s what to know about testing:
Chlamydia: The “Silent” Fertility Thief
One big danger: This bacterial infection, easy to treat with antibiotics, usually causes no symptoms. In women, it can lead to painful, fertility-robbing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID); in pregnant women it can trigger early delivery and lead to an eye infection or pneumonia in babies. In men, it can cause painful inflammation of the urethra and rectum.
Test facts:All sexually active women ages 25 and younger as well as older women with new or multiple sexual partners (or with a partner who’s had an STD recently) should be screened for chlamydia every year, according to the CDC. Pregnant women should be tested, too. Men should discuss testing with their doctor.
Gonorrhea: Mild Symptoms Are Misleading
Caused by a bacterium that infects the lining of the reproductive tract. Like chlamydia, it can cause fertility-threatening PID in women; a pregnant women can pass the disease to her baby at delivery, causing blindness and life-threatening blood infection. Gonorrhea can lead to infertility in men, too. Yet early symptoms are so mild that for many people, it’s not found right away.
Test facts: Sexually active women ages 25 and younger should be tested each year; so should women older than age 25 with new or multiple partners. Men should discuss testing with their doctor.
Syphilis: The “Great Pretender”
Serious yet easy to miss, syphilis is a bacterial STD that can cause one or more painless sores in the early stage. In the second stage it can cause rashes and flu like symptoms—then goes silent and symptom-free for years. That’s risky, because untreated syphilis can damage organs and nerves throughout the body leading to dementia, paralysis, and death. Pregnant women can pass syphilis to their unborn children, leading to stillbirth or an early death after birth.
Test facts: See your doctor right away if you have symptoms or if a sexual partner has been diagnosed with syphilis. You should also be tested if you are pregnant, are a man who has sex with other men, or have HIV and are sexually active, or are taking PrEP for HIV prevention.
HIV, Human Papillomavirus, and Other STDs: Know When to Get Tested
The CDC recommends testing all women and men at least once for the human immunodeficiency virus—ask your doctor about rechecks. If you have symptoms or see a doctor for other STDs, you may be checked for herpes, too. Talk with your doctor about whether you need tests for hepatitis B; people born between 1945 and 1965 should be checked for hepatitis C.