Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

STDs can cause mild discomfort to serious conditions. Learn what you can do to prevent and treat them.
STDs are diseases passed from one person to another through sexual contact. You may or may not have symptoms when you have an STD. Having STDs makes it easier to get other STDs, including HIV/AIDS.

What are common STDs, and how are they treated?

The most common STDs are:
  • Chlamydia, caused by bacteria that can damage a woman’s reproductive organs. Often there are no symptoms, but it is easily cured with antibiotics.
  • Gonorrhea, caused by bacteria and can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, even though there often are no symptoms. Some strains are becoming drug-resistant, so it is becoming more difficult to treat.
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), occurring as a complication from other STDs such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, and which can damage reproductive organs, leading to problems such as infertility. For many women, the most common symptom is lower abdominal pain. Other things to watch for are fever, painful intercourse, discharges with a foul odor, painful urination, irregular menstrual bleeding, and, rarely, pain in the upper right abdomen.
  • Viral hepatitis, inflammation of the liver caused by one of five known hepatitis viruses. Three of these are passed through sexual contact. Hepatitis can cause liver cancer and liver failure, however most people with chronic hepatitis do not know that they are infected
  • Genital herpes, caused by the herpes simplex virus. Often there are no symptoms, but some people with genital herpes have outbreaks of sores in their genitals.   There is no cure, but antiviral medications can help alleviate symptoms.
  • Syphilis, caused by bacteria transmitted through a sore in the genital area.  Untreated it can cause damage to internal organs, and eventually death. It can be cured with antibiotics. In the primary stage, small painless sores can develop on the mouth, genitals or anus.
  • Trichomoniasis, the most common STD in young women that is curable. It is caused by a single-celled parasite. Symptoms include vaginal discharge and pain.
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), an infection can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). You may be infected with HIV for years without knowing it, even as it is breaking down your immune system. AIDS usually results in death because the immune system can no longer fight off disease. There is no cure for the infection, but current medications can improve the health of someone with HIV, and prevent quick progression to AIDS.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV), carried by at least 50% of sexually active adults. There are many types, but most people with HPV do not know that they have it. HPV is a known cause of cervical cancer in women; you can get HPV vaccine, called Gardasil, which will prevent HPV infection and reduce your chances of getting cervical cancer, and other less common cancers. The vaccine is recommended for all girls after age 11.

STD Testing
Most STD testing is done with blood and urine tests. A Pap test with an abnormal result is likely caused by HPV.

  • For other STD resources, see the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists pamphlet on STDs, and these Center for Disease Control STD Fact Sheets:
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