Long-term effects of STIs

Since many STIs can lay dormant and show no symptoms for long periods of time, you may not even know if you have one. We take a look at what Ireland’s commonest STIs could have in store for you if left untreated.

Chlamydia

Number of cases reported in Ireland (2013): 6,262

What is it?

As the most common STI in Ireland, it makes sense that Chlamydia is also one of the easiest spread. The chlamydia trachomatis bacteria which causes it can be spread through unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Chlamydia notoriously does not display any symptoms in many cases, meaning it often goes undetected. 

Short-term impact

For those who do experience symptoms, Chlamydia can cause a lot of pain and discomfort.

Women may experience painful sex, abnormal vaginal discharge, and a burning feeling when urinating. They may also encounter lower stomach or back pain.

Men may experience penile discharge, genital burning and itching, and pain in the testicles. Within the first few weeks after contracting Chlamydia, men may also experience sexually acquired reactive arthritis (SARA), which will manifest itself as an inflammation in the joints, or inflammation of the eyes.

If infected with chlamydia in the rectum, both men and women can experience rectal pain, discharge, and bleeding. 

Long-term impact

Chlamydia is one of the main causes of infertility around the world, and can cause damage to the reproductive system in both women and men.

In women, it can spread to the uterus and fallopian tubes, and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Whilst causing a lot of pain in the pelvic region in its own right, this disease can also lead to miscarriages, stillbirths, and infertility, as well as life-threatening ectopic pregnancies.

In men, the bacteria can spread to the testicles, causing them to become painful and swollen – a condition referred to as epididymitis. Research suggests that untreated chlamydia may also increase your chances of contracting HIV or passing it on.

 

Gonorrhoea

Number of cases reported in Ireland (2013): 1,294

What is it?

Affectionately known as ‘the clap’, gonorrhoea currently holds the title of Ireland’s third most common STI. It is again caused by bacteria – known collectively as gonococcus – and tends to exhibit more symptoms in men than in women. 

Short-term impact

The undesirable effects of gonorrhoea usually develop within two weeks of infection.

Men can expect to experience pain when urinating, as well as penile discharge and swollen testicles.

Women are much less likely to experience symptoms – only about 50% actually do – but these will include pain when urinating, increased vaginal discharge and irregular periods.

For both sexes, rectal infections may again cause discharge and bleeding, as well as anal itching and painful bowel movements. 

Long-term impact

The outlook for untreated gonorrhoea is similarly bleak to that of Chlamydia.

For women, long-term gonorrhoea can lead to PID, with its associated problems of infertility and pelvic pain. However, abscesses can also develop in the ovaries and the two small glands which lubricate the vagina (Bartholin glands) may also get infected.

Men can experience highly painful infections in the testes and prostate gland, as well as epididymitis. In rare cases, untreated gonorrhoea can also reduce male fertility.

But there’s an added treat: both sexes are susceptible to developing disseminated gonoccal infections. This means infection in areas other than the genitalia, most commonly the joints, skin and heart. At its most serious, this can lead to septicaemia – an infection of the blood which can be life-threatening.

 

Genital Warts

Number of cases reported in Ireland (2013): 2,133

What is it?

As its name suggests, genital warts are warts largely found in the genital region, although they can also be found further afield. They are the result of two strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) – since 80% of the world’s population will contract one of the 100 strains of HPV, it’s certainly a virus worth knowing about.

Short-term impact

Genital warts tend to cluster together and can vary wildly in size.

In women, they tend to group around the vulva or the opening of the vagina. However, they can also occur on the cervix and within the vagina, as well as in the groin and rectum.

In men, genital warts occur most commonly around the anus or on the tip of the penis. However, you should also watch out for them around the scrotum, in the anus and within the urethra.

Long-term impact

Unlike chlamydia and gonorrhoea, genital warts are essentially harmless. There is no evidence linking them to loss of fertility, and whilst they can be painful and itchy they don’t bring any added health risks.

Of course, many people find them extremely unpleasant aesthetically and this can lead to a loss of confidence and distress.

Most cases of cancer of the cervix (the neck of the womb) are caused by HPV. As such, it is important for women to have regular cervical screening tests.

 

The risk of catching all of the above can be reduced by wearing a condom, although this will not protect you against skin-to-skin transmission completely.

Whether you’re male or female, consider taking an STI test to make sure you’re in the all-clear. Understand the risks, make sure you’re protected against STIs, and get tested if you’re unsure. It’s not worth leaving it untreated!

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