Sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, are common in the United States, especially among young people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that of the 26 million new STD cases in the United States in 2018, roughly half of them were in people between the ages of 15 and 24.
If you are sexually active, you should understand the risk of STDs and take steps to protect yourself and any potential partners. It’s possible to have an STD and not have any symptoms, which means it’s critical to get tested to prevent unknowingly passing an infection to someone else.
Below are three of the most common STDs in the United States and what symptoms to look for. Fortunately, these common STDs can get treated or even cured.
HPV (Human Papillomavirus)
The most common STD in the United States, HPV, affects nearly 80 million Americans. Many people with HPV have no symptoms. There are more than 40 different types of HPV, and many of them go away on their own. However, other types of HPV can cause genital warts or lead to certain types of cancer, including cervical cancer or penile cancer.
Testing for HPV is the only way to know if you have a high-risk strain of HPV that could lead to cancer. Testing can identify abnormal cells before they become cancerous. In most cases, cervical cancer can be prevented with early diagnosis and treatment. Penile cancer is rare in North America but can often get cured if found early.
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that can usually be treated with antibiotics. About 75% of women and 50% of men with chlamydia will not have any symptoms. Some people with chlamydia will experience pain while urinating, unusual discharge from the vagina or penis, abdominal pain, or pain during sex.
If left untreated, chlamydia can lead to serious complications, especially for women. Chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause chronic pelvic pain and infertility. After being treated for chlamydia, you should get tested again in one to three months to make sure the infection is gone.
Like chlamydia, gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that can be treated with antibiotics. Also, like chlamydia, gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease if left untreated. It can also increase the risk of contracting HPV.
Many people get gonorrhea and chlamydia at the same time. Men with gonorrhea usually have symptoms similar to chlamydia and include painful urination and swollen testicles. Only about 20% of women with gonorrhea will develop symptoms, including abnormal vaginal discharge and bleeding between periods.
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Who Should Get Tested for STDs?
Testing is the only way to ensure you do not have one of these common STDs. For women, a Pap smear or gynecological exam may detect abnormal cells that could indicate HPV, but a Pap smear isn’t a direct test for high-risk HPV. If you think you are at risk of an STD, ask your doctor for an STD test specifically, or make an appointment at an STD testing center near you.
National guidelines recommend that you should get tested for STDs every year if you:
- Have a new partner or multiple partners
- Are a man who has sex with men
- Are a sexually active woman under the age of 25
- Have HIV
- Have been the victim of a sexual assault
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