Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are very common, especially in London. But the good news is that the majority of STI’s are easily preventable and totally treatable! You can be tested for STIs at a sexual health clinic, a genitourinary medicine clinic or at your GP surgery. If you’re concerned you might have an STI, it is really important that you avoid any sexual intercourse (even with a condom) and visit one of the above mentioned clinics to get tested and treated.
Read on for a quick summary of some of the most common STIs.
Chlamydia is the most common STI in the UK, especially because people often don’t have symptoms, so can pass it onto their partners without even knowing they’ve got it! This is why it is really important to get regular STD tests, especially if you’re having sex without a condom. You can read more about chlamydia testing, here.
If you get chlamydia as a woman, you might find you have pain or burning when you wee, vaginal discharge, pain in your lower tummy during or after sex, bleeding during or after sex or bleeding between periods. Chlamydia can also cause heavy periods, although this isn’t as common.
If you get chlamydia as a man, you might also experience pain or burning when you wee and discharge from the tip of the penis. This tends to be white, cloudy or watery. Men might also notice painful or tender testicles.
Gonorrhoea is another common STI that often doesn’t cause symptoms, which again, means that people can pass it on to their partners without knowing! Indeed, 50% of women and 10% of men won’t experience any symptoms.
For those that do get symptoms, they tend to be similar to those you get with Chlamydia (for both men and women) – which is why we usually test for both STIs together! Find out more about gonorrhoea testing on our page.
In women, you might notice burning when peeing, vaginal discharge (often watery, yellow or green), lower tummy pain during or after sex, bleeding during or after sex, and sometimes bleeding between periods. Men might have burning when peeing, discharge (white, yellow or green) from the tip of the penis, and pain or tenderness in the testicle.
Both chlamydia and gonorrhoea can also infect the throat, rectum or eyes in both genders.
Diagnosing chlamydia and gonorrhoea isn’t tricky and involves a urine test and taking a swab of the affected area. It’s really important you get STIs treated, not only because you don’t want to spread them but because if you don’t treat them, they can cause long-term problems, including infertility.
Although we’ve given you a long list of symptoms of both chlamydia and gonorrhoea, remember that they can both have no symptoms whatsoever. For this reason, it’s important to use barrier protection (condoms) and get yourself checked regularly for STIs if you have had unprotected sex.
Because some STIs often don’t cause any symptoms, it is important to use barrier protection and get yourself checked regularly
3. Genital Warts
Genital warts are the second most common STI after chlamydia. They’re caused by caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) and as the name suggests they’re usually found around the genitals (but you can also get them around the anus).
If you’ve got warts, you might notice small, fleshy bumps, which aren’t painful but can be itchy or red and can occasionally bleed. Unfortunately, you can get warts just from skin to skin contact – that means you don’t have to have penetrative sex to catch it!
Warts are pretty easy to treat. Although they might feel like something that you see on Embarrassing Bodies, they’re more common than you think, so it’s important to see your GP and get them treated! They can be treated with creams or you can freeze them off too!
4. Genital herpes
Genital herpes is caused by a virus (which also causes cold sores) and is an STI that is also on the up! Genital herpes leads to small, painful blisters or sores on the genitals, which can be itchy, tingly or make it painful to pee.
Unlike the other three STIs we’ve mentioned, with herpes, once you’ve been infected, the virus stays in your body forever, in an inactive state. This means that you won’t and can’t get rid of the virus. As a result, the signs of infection can come back occasionally (but not in everyone!), when the virus becomes active again. These occasions when symptoms come back are called ‘outbreaks’ – the good news is that outbreaks should get smaller and less painful.
Herpes testing can be hard if you don’t have symptoms so it’s a good idea to try and see a doctor when you do have got symptoms. Although we can’t get rid of the virus entirely, if you’ve got frequent and difficult symptoms, your doctor can give you antiviral medicines.
Syphilis is an STI caused by bacteria that can lead to many different symptoms, depending on how long you’ve had it.
In the early stages, syphilis can cause a sore on the genitals or mouth, which doesn’t cause any pain. This sore might hang around for 6 weeks before disappearing. While you’ve got those sore, you’re very infectious, so if you have unprotected sex during this time, you’re likely to pass on the infection.
The secondary stage of syphilis involves a rash with flu-like symptoms. Like the sore, this might last several weeks and then go away. If you don’t get syphilis treated for years and years, you can have problems with your heart or nervous symptoms.
Because the symptoms of syphilis aren’t that obvious (sometimes it has no symptoms at all!), it can be difficult to recognise and diagnose. The good news is that syphilis testing only involves a quick blood test and, if the test comes back positive, all you need to treat it is the antibiotic, penicillin. Luckily, if you treat it, you can prevent the later complications too!
Trichomoniasis vaginalis (TV) is an STI that many people don’t know about – however it is on the up! Like gonorrhoea and chlamydia most people don’t know that they have got it.
Women with TV might notice frothy yellow, or watery vaginal discharge that can be strong smelling, soreness or itching around the vagina or pain when peeing, while men rarely get any symptoms at all.
HIV is one of the more serious STIs but thankfully, we’ve got much better at treating these days! People usually get HIV via unprotected sex, but you can also get it if you come into contact with infected blood, e.g. by injecting drugs. We can diagnose HIV easily with a blood test!
We can’t get rid of the HIV virus. It stays in your body forever and damages the immune system, meaning that, if you don’t treat it, you become less able to fight infection. These days, there are many different drugs that can control the HIV virus meaning that most people with HIV live normal, healthy lives.
The other important thing is that most people with HIV will not have symptoms, meaning again, that you can pass on the infection without knowing. Some will have what is called a ‘seroconversion illness’ which involves flu-like symptoms with a fever, sore throat and rash, shortly after the virus enters their body. That doesn’t mean that you should worry about HIV every time you have flu or a sore throat but is something to consider if you have had unprotected sex with someone who might have HIV – you can read all about HIV testing on our page!
8. Pubic Lice
You might know pubic lice but the other name for them, ‘crabs’. Although they’re normally found in pubic hair, you can actually find them in any hair! You can only catch them from prolonged close contact. You can usually treat them with over the counter shampoos and creams, making them pretty easy to treat. Body hair removal is not necessary either, so you can cancel that wax appointment!
Scabies is caused by mites that burrow into the skin. You can catch scabies from close or sexual contact. They cause some pretty bad itching that is worse at night. You might especially itchy between the fingers, on the wrists and ankles or in the genital area, although they can be found in other places too. Over the counter creams and shampoos are available or your GP will be able to prescribe you some. Like pubic lice, there aren’t any long term problems with having scabies, it’s just good to get them treated and get rid of the symptoms!
If you’re worried about anything you’ve read in today’s blog post, book in for a private doctors appointment at London Doctors Clinic. We have eight private clinics across Central London (with a ninth – our Paddington clinic – arriving soon), and are here for you when you need to find a GP. Don’t forget, we have same day doctor appointments available too!