At least once a month, I see a scared woman (or man) who has engaged in unprotected sex with a new partner. Or, they are having a genital symptom and are concerned that they've contracted an STI (sexually transmitted infection).
If you think you've been exposed to an STI, it's important to be checked out by a doctor as STIs can have serious health consequences if left untreated. For example, Chlamydia or gonorrhea infection can lead to infertility in women. HPV can lead to cancer of the cervix or penis and syphilis can lead to heart damage, blindness or death.
STIs are usually passed from one person to another during sexual intercourse, but they can be passed by anal sex, oral sex or even skin-to-skin contact. STIs can be caused by viruses (hepatitis B, herpes, and human papilloma virus) or bacteria (including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis).
First, I ask about symptoms. Possible symptoms of a STI include:
- Vaginal itching or discharge
- Discharge from the penis
- Pain during sex or pain when urinating
- Pelvic pain
- Pain in or around the anus for people who have anal sex
- Painless red sores on the genitals, anus, or tongue or throat for those who have oral sex
- A scaly rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet
- Dark urine, loose light colored stools and yellow eyes and skin
- Painful or itchy blisters in the genital area that turn into scabs
- Enlarged glands in the groin
- Soft warts around the genital area
Other more generalized symptoms that may indicate an STI:
- Sore throat in a person who has oral sex
- Unusual infections, unexplained weight loss
- Other enlarged glands, fever and body aches
In addition to a discussion about safe sexual practices, your doctor may perform the following tests:
- Genital exam. Your doctor will inspect your genital area, looking for any lesions, penile discharge (in men), swollen glands, painful areas or evidence of lice or scabies.
- Pelvic exam (for women). During a pelvic exam, your doctor can do microscopic evaluation and cultures for gonorrhea, Chlamydia, HPV, trichomonas as well as other non sexually transmitted causes of vaginal discharge.
- Blood work for HIV, syphilis, hepatitis B, and herpes
I always recommend a repeat HIV test a few months after the first one, as the antibody test can be negative in a person who was recently exposed to the virus.
If any of the tests come back positive, be sure to talk to your doctor about the best treatment and how to treat or prevent infection in your sexual partner. And next time, USE PROTECTION!