Knowledge is power in just about every aspect of life and the statement is very much true when it comes to reproductive health.
Did you know that sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are more common among women than among men, statistics show? Biology and physiology are both to blame for the phenomenon. It’s much easier for a man to pass an STD to a woman than the other way around because of these specifics.
There are many different viral and bacterial STDs but the following ones are the most prevalent among women. Understanding the infection specifics and recognising the symptoms can both help for adequate prevention, diagnosis and early treatment.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Epidemiological research shows that HPV is the most widespread STD worldwide. Estimates suggest that about 80 per cent of sexually active women and men will contract HPV during their lifetime. Luckily, for most people the infection is transient and it clears within a couple of years.
Apart from being the most common STD in women, HPV is also the primary cause of cervical cancer. The good news is that most viral strains that fall under the HPV umbrella aren’t high risk and don’t cause malignancies. Even more importantly, a vaccine already exists to prevent an infection with high risk viral strains altogether.
As far as symptoms go, understand the fact that most types of HPV don’t cause any.
The fact that you don’t have symptoms, however, doesn’t mean the virus can’t be passed on to a sexual partner. Using barrier contraception is one of the best ways to prevent a potential infection.
Whenever HPV causes symptoms, there are a couple of possibilities. Genital warts are common. And in some situations, HPV can cause precancerous and cancerous changes of the cervix. Luckily, cervical cancer is easy to identify early on. It takes about 10 years for cancer to develop. During this time period, changes can be spotted easily through a simple PAP smear.
In Singapore, both men and women have access to HPV vaccines. Gardasil and Cervarix are both highly effective, covering some of the highest risk HPV strains. You can learn more about both vaccines and if you’re a good candidate for those by visiting Shim Clinic.
Caused by the Chlamydia trachomatis bacterium, chlamydia is the second most common STD among women globally. Just like HPV, it can contribute to some serious health problems if left unaddressed for too long.
Statistics show that chlamydia affects mostly younger people of reproductive age. It can spread through all kinds of sex – vaginal, anal or oral. Because it is caused by a bacterium, chlamydia can be cured completely with a round of antibiotics. Very often, however, it’s not addressed adequately because the infection is asymptomatic.
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, 70 per cent of chlamydia infections in women are asymptomatic.
When it causes symptoms, these tend to be rather generic – unusual vaginal discharge, pain during urination, painful intercourse, abdominal cramps. Because of their nature, these symptoms can easily be mistaken for something else.
Understand the fact it’s very important for women to treat chlamydia as soon as the infection occurs. If the bacterium remains active in the body, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility. PID is another “silent” condition. It can lead to irreversible fallopian tube damage. On occasions, it can even spread to the uterus, making a future pregnancy very difficult or even impossible to achieve.
The symptoms of chlamydia and gonorrhoea are very similar. It’s also not uncommon for women to get the two STDs at the same time.
Gonorrhoea is another bacterial STD that can spread through all kinds of sexual activity. It’s yet another condition affecting younger people. WHO statistics suggest that 78 million cases of new gonorrhoea infections happen among those aged 15 to 49 over the course of a single year. There’s a reason why gonorrhoea can spread so easily – it’s often impossible to detect without testing.
Most women with gonorrhoea are asymptomatic. And when symptoms occur, they’re so non-specific that many women will not seek testing or a treatment at all.
Like chlamydia, gonorrhoea can lead to PID and fertility problems. And like chlamydia, it can be treated with antibiotics before leading to permanent reproductive damage. Getting tested frequently is especially important for sexually active women, especially those of reproductive age (or those planning to get pregnant in the near future).
Genital herpes completes the top four and while this one doesn’t have as serious consequences as the other conditions mentioned in the list, it’s still no walk in the park.
According to WHO, 491 million people aged 15 to 49 have a genital herpes infection. Most of these people are asymptomatic, which helps herpes spread effortlessly.
The herpes simplex virus that causes genital infections is called HSV-2. HSV-2 infects women twice as often as it does men.
When symptoms eventually occur (although they may never show up), they tend to be mild. A small percentage of women will experience genital blisters or ulcers in the perineal region. Usually, the first appearance of symptoms is most severe. Recurrences are possible but they are often mild.
Genital herpes cannot be cured but the symptoms may be addressed through the use of antiviral medications. When such medications are taken, the risk of passing the virus to a sexual partner doesn’t decrease.
Also, genital herpes increases the risk of other infections. Studies show that those who have genital herpes are more predisposed to contracting HIV.
By getting tested, a woman can learn her status. Based on it, she can make adequate decisions about the use of contraception and the prevention of future complications.
To sum it up, women are more likely to get an STD than men are and they’re also more likely to show no symptoms at all. Until the condition is identified and treated, it can cause serious damage to the reproductive tract. In some instances, STDs will contribute to difficulties getting pregnant. In other instances, they could make a pregnancy impossible to achieve (even through assisted reproductive technologies).
Getting STD testing is essential, regardless of your age. If you are sexually active, even in a committed monogamous relationship, you’re still at risk. STD screening once or twice per year will give you peace of mind.
Sexual health clinics like Shim Clinic offer readily available screening and sexual health consultations. Contact Shim Clinic if you’d like to inquire about our services or visit us during working hours every day of the week.