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Could I Have an STD and Not Know It?

By Terri D'Arrigo
WebMD Feature

A one-night stand. A summer fling. A new love interest asks about your sexual history. A long-term partner confesses to cheating on you. Any of these could make you wonder, "Do I have an STD?"

So you check below the belt. No itching. No sores. No weird oozing or funky smells. It doesn't hurt when you pee. There's nothing obvious that would send you to the doctor. That means you're OK, right?

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Not exactly. It's possible to have an STD and not know it. Sometimes symptoms are mild. Sometimes they can be mistaken for other conditions, like when women have discharge from a yeast infection. Sometimes STDs don't have symptoms at all. Yet they can cause health problems.

Talk to Your Doctor

"The same way we can have germs on our skin, in our mouths, or in our digestive tracts and not know it, we can have germs on or inside our genitals," says Jeffrey D. Klausner, MD. He's a professor of medicine and public health at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine. "The only way to learn if you have an STD is to get a checkup and talk to a doctor or nurse about your sexual health."

Women usually discuss sexual health with their gynecologists. But both women and men can speak to their regular doctors or nurse practitioners.

"You don't need to see a specialist. All primary care providers can offer STD tests," Klausner says.

Why You Need to Know

STDs are common. There are about 20 million new cases of STDs in the U.S. each year. More than half of adults will have one in their lifetime. If you haven't been tested, you could pass an STD on to someone else. Even though you don't have symptoms, it can be dangerous to your health and the health of your partner.

Some STDs, including chlamydia and gonorrhea, can cause infertility. This is especially true for women. These diseases can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), an infection of the uterus and other reproductive organs. PID can raise a woman's risk for ectopic pregnancy, a pregnancy outside the womb.

Other STDs, such as syphilis and HIV, can be deadly. Left untreated for years, syphilis can also seriously damage your brain, nervous system, and heart.

Certain strains of HPV can cause cervical cancer in women, cancer of the penis in men, and cancer of the anus in both men and women.

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