We have often heard about how pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility are two of the most common complications resulting from untreated STDs. However, the possible effects of getting infected with a STD extend further beyond those two problems. For instance, people with genital herpes can develop meningitis, which is an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
Severe or life-altering risks and complications can arise because people often do not realize they have STDs until it is too late. For a lot of people, STDs can be asymptomatic. This is why regular STD testing is one important measure to take to ward off complications. In this article, we are going to discuss several complications caused by STDs.
Meningitis caused by genital herpes is referred to as herpes meningoencephalitis. The brain is covered by layers of thin tissues called meninges. Meningitis is a condition where the meninges are infected, while encephalitis is when the brain gets inflamed. Meningoencephalitis, on the other hand, is a complication where inflammation occurs to both meninges and brain.
Affecting both male and female equally, herpes meningoencephalitis is a condition which requires immediate treatment. If not tended to right away, it can cause lifelong problems. Common symptoms of meningoencephalitis include fever, headache, sensitivity to light and stiff neck. Other symptoms such as seizures, drowsiness, or confusion/difficulties of thinking clearly may indicate that the brain is also damaged.
A number of diagnostic tests may be run if your healthcare professionals suspect herpes meningoencephalitis after reviewing your medical history. Neurological exams (to examine shifts in motor and sensory functions, vision, balance and mood), lumbar puncture (taking fluid from the spinal cord), imaging (MRI or CT scan), EEG and blood tests are several methods that can be utilized to confirm meningoencephalitis.
Treating meningoencephalitis means treating the source or cause of the infection. Most cases are due to herpes simplex virus, which is why antiviral acyclovir serves as the main treatment. Taken intravenously through IV line, this medication should be taken for 10 to 14 days. Patients normally start improving in one or two days after treatment begins and will fully recover in a month. Untreated meningoencephalitis poses serious and life-threatening conditions such as long-term brain damage. This lifelong problem causes people to have trouble thinking clearly, speaking, seeing and difficulty in controlling the body.
2. Reactive Arthritis
Also known as Reiter’s Syndrome, reactive arthritis is one kind of arthritis that occurs because of an infection. If usually arthritis is associated with aging, reactive arthritis is mostly caused by Chlamydia trachomatis. Reactive arthritis is not contagious even though infections causing it may be. This complication affects men more than women and 20 to 50 is the age group most prone to experiencing it.
Symptoms for reactive arthritis revolve around joint pain and inflammations affecting the knees, feet and ankles. Not limited to these areas, inflammation may also occur in tendons which are attached to the bone, spine (spondylitis), and lower back joints (sacroiliitis). The extent of reactive arthritis not only concentrates on joints as it can also cause urinary tract and eye problems. In men, urinary tract symptoms lead to increased urine, penile discharge, burning sensation when urinating and inflamed prostate. In women, affected areas include the cervix, vulva, urethra and fallopian tubes. As for eye symptoms, blurry vision, red eyes and conjunctivitis can happen.
Confirming reactive arthritis can be an arduous process since no specific diagnostic tests are available. One way to rule out other possibilities such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis is performing blood tests. Other diagnostic tests include taking urine and stool samples, X-rays, gene testing, joint aspiration, and tests for infections.
Treating Reiter’s Syndrome is largely dependent on a person’s age, symptoms, how severe it has become and overall health. Treatment options revolve around:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines and corticosteroids
- Immunosuppressive medicines
- Resting and exercising to improve muscles and joints
- Although the symptoms of reactive arthritis may go away in several months, mild arthritis can last up to a year while very rarely people can develop chronic arthritis that causes joint damage.
Cirrhosis is the scarring of the liver. This damage is caused by continuous inflammation triggered by viral hepatitis infections (which can be spread through sexual contact) and severe alcohol consumption. The liver is an organ that can repair itself, meaning that it can replace affected cells with new ones. However, bad and repetitive lifestyle habits such as drinking excessive alcohol and sharing needles with an infected person can cause scar tissue to develop between liver cells. This scarring is referred to as fibrosis. If this damage is not detected, the condition becomes irreversible and liver functions are damaged.
Symptoms of cirrhosis include fatigue, joint pains, dark urine, nausea, weight loss, jaundice (yellowing of the skin), bruising easily and general pain. Diagnosing cirrhosis is done through liver biopsy. This method is the most accurate way as it also can detect which stage the cirrhosis is. Meanwhile, fibrosis can be examined through the help of ultrasound or magnetic resonance elastography (this test can detect stiffness of particular body areas).
The only way to cure cirrhosis is through liver transplantation, but there are certain steps that can be taken to manage the progression of the disease:
- Avoid alcohol
- Take antiretroviral treatment for hepatitis B and hepatitis C if required
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid over-the-counter supplements since they have been associated with liver injury
- Avoid raw shellfish because it contains an infection-causing bacterium in people with progressive liver conditions
- Even though cirrhosis is a lifelong condition, the liver is a big organ and if part of it is still functioning, people can slow the progression of the disease. People with advanced cirrhosis may consider transplantation to increase life expectancy.
Life-altering complications resulting from STDs can be mitigated by being screened regularly so you can be treated for STDs early. Shim Clinic is a trustworthy sexual health clinic based in Singapore providing reliable STD tests, diagnosis and treatment. We also carry STD prevention methods such as HIV PEP, HIV PrEP and HPV vaccination (Gardasil-9).