Did you know that one in five people in the United States has a sexually transmitted infection? While many people believe that STIs are just a nuisance, these infections can have long-term consequences if treatment is ignored. Preventing and treating STIs is important not just for your sex life, but also for your overall health. Here are four long-term effects that untreated STIs can have on the body.
HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that can lead to cancer of the cervix, penis, anus, or head and neck. Although there is no treatment for the virus itself, the abnormal cells it causes can be treated and removed depending on the location of the infection. The good news is that HPV can be prevented by vaccination and safe sex practices. If you are age 45 or younger and haven’t been vaccinated for HPV, ask your doctor if the vaccine is right for you.
In the case that you have already contracted HPV, it’s important to keep an eye out for any unusual symptoms and get tested if you notice anything. If you are over the age of 21 and have a cervix, it’s important to get regular pap smears to test for cervical cancer. Finding cancer early can make it much easier to treat.
Many STIs can cause both male and female infertility. Bacterial infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea can progress into pelvic inflammatory disease, which scars the ovaries and Fallopian tubes if left untreated. Syphilis is an STI that can lead to male infertility by causing inflammation of the testicles, a condition called epididymitis. Untreated STIs also increase the risk of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. If you have a history of such STIs and are looking to conceive, talk to a fertility specialist for an evaluation.
The long-term effects of STIs aren’t limited to the reproductive tract. Many STIs can cause damage to other organs of the body. Syphilis is known for causing blindness, and hepatitis can lead to liver failure or liver cancer. One of the most dangerous STIs is HIV, which progresses into a deadly condition called AIDS if left untreated. HIV prevention is important because there is currently no cure for the disease.
Contracting an STI during pregnancy can affect not only you but also your baby. STIs like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis can increase the risk of preterm labor, low birth weight, blindness, deafness, and deformities. STIs like HIV can also make your newborn sick if they are passed on during birth. Keep your baby safe from STIs by getting adequate prenatal care including STI testing. Make sure your baby is vaccinated for hepatitis B shortly after birth.
Although STIs can be a sensitive and embarrassing subject, it’s important to keep an open conversation with your doctor about your risk factors and get regular testing as recommended for your demographic. You can also discuss STI prevention methods, such as condoms, vaccines, and PrEP and PEP drugs, to prevent HIV and other infections. Ultimately, the easiest way to avoid complications is to prevent STIs whenever possible.
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