While for some women discussing STIs (sexually transmitted infections) may feel a little uncomfortable, it’s an important topic that is critical for your overall health and being informed can empower you to make the right decisions.
Whether you’re currently sexually active, or a younger woman planning to be in the future, understanding STIs is essential for protecting yourself and maintaining a healthy future. So, let’s learn more about female sexually transmitted infections.
Also known as sexually transmitted infections, these infections can be passed from one person to another through sexual contact. STIs can be caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites and can affect both men and women. Today, however, we’ll be focusing on STIs that primarily affect women.
There’s a big chance you’ve heard of these common STIs and perhaps you’ve personally encountered them at one point or another. They are the most prevalent STIs in our community and impact the lives of many women.
Chlamydia is probably one of the most well-known STIs, but if left untreated it can have serious implications for women. It’s caused by the bacteria Chlamydia Trachomatis and is often asymptomatic – highlighting the need for regular checks if you’re sexually active.
If symptoms do occur, they generally appear seven to 10 days after unprotected sexual activity. Symptoms may include vaginal discharge, bleeding or spotting between periods or after sex, burning or stinging during urination and pain during intercourse.
If left untreated, chlamydia can enter the uterus and the fallopian tubes, causing pelvic inflammatory disease, leading to issues such as ectopic pregnancy and infertility.
Your Grace Private doctor will take a sample from your vagina or you may produce a urine sample. Many women find it easier to schedule their chlamydia screening while they are getting their cervical screening test. If you have chlamydia, it can be treated with antibiotics, normally a single dose.
Another common STI that affects women is gonorrhoea. It’s also a bacterial infection and affects the cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes. Symptoms develop within 10 days and may include an unusual discharge, pain or burning during urination and pelvic discomfort.
If left untreated gonorrhoea can damage your eyes, joints, heart and brain and similar to chlamydia, cause pelvic inflammatory disease leading to infertility. Gonorrhoea is diagnosed via a cervical swab and treated with antibiotics. It’s recommended to be tested again two weeks after treatment.
Genital herpes: Probably one of the most well-known STIs due to its recognisable symptoms, genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). While some women are asymptomatic, it can cause painful sores and blisters in the genital area as well as flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache and swollen glands.
To test for genital herpes your doctor will take a swab from a blister and check to see if the virus is present. Antiviral medication can reduce the symptoms of genital herpes, but once you have this virus, you will have it for the rest of your life. You may experience recurrent episodes, most commonly when you’re feeling run down or your immune system is weaker.
Human papillomavirus (HPV):
HPV is a viral infection that in most cases is asymptomatic and goes away on its own, but for some people, it causes genital warts and can be linked to cervical, vulva, anal, vaginal and oropharyngeal cancers.
HPV is usually diagnosed through symptoms, physical examination, and for women, the Cervical Screening Test. This test, replacing the pap smear, can detect high-risk HPV strains.
There is no treatment for HPV and it normally goes away on its own, which can take up to a year. Re-testing is essential to ensure it has left your body. If you have genital warts they can be frozen off (cryotherapy), removed in hospital or your doctor may prescribe a topical cream.
Practising safe sex is the best way to prevent HPV, and vaccination is recommended for people aged nine to 25 or those with a weak immune system. The HPV vaccine is part of the National Immunisation Program schedule and is offered for free at schools or for those under 26 years of age.
When it comes to STIs, prevention is better than a cure! Practising safe sex is the best way to avoid STIs. Using condoms correctly can protect you from contracting STIs and also prevent pregnancy.
It’s important to schedule regular STI screenings, even if you don’t have any symptoms. Early detection is key to avoiding possible complications in the future.
It’s also essential to be honest and open with your sexual partners regarding your testing history and practising safe sex. This enables both of you to make the best decisions for your health and well-being.
As a woman, prioritising your sexual health is essential. Taking proactive steps to gain knowledge and practising safe sex will help you stay healthy throughout your life.
If you suspect you have an STI, or you just want to schedule regular tests with a doctor you trust, contact the Grace Private team today. Our Specialists Women’s Health GPs and experienced gynaecologists are here to help by providing trusted advice, treatment and support every step of the way.