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Could You Have an STD — And Not Know It?

WebMD can help you know what to watch for
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Could you have an STD and not know it? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Some sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea, have symptoms that are often confused with signs of a bladder infection, while others, such as chlamydia, may not have any symptoms at all. Here is a look at the six most common STDs in women, including a brief summary of specific symptoms and how the diseases are treated.

Chlamydia

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According to the CDC, chlamydia is the most frequently reported and fastest growing sexually transmitted disease in the United States. Still, most cases go undiagnosed. The disease is most common in women aged 15-24.

Symptoms: Three-quarters of women with chlamydia experience no symptoms; those who do may notice abnormal vaginal discharge, burning when urinating, and spotting between periods.

Symptoms vs. exposure time: If symptoms do occur, they usually appear within 1-3 weeks of exposure.

Transmission: Chlamydia can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. It can also be passed from mother to baby during vaginal birth.

Treatment: Chlamydia can be easily cured with antibiotics, usually a single dose of azithromycin or a week of treatment with doxycycline.

Consequences if left untreated: The disease can spread into the uterus or fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which is not easily cured. PID can cause permanent damage to the fallopian tubes and uterus, resulting in chronic pelvic pain, infertility, and the potential of fatal ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy that occurs outside the uterus). It can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby during childbirth. Up to 40 percent of women with untreated Chlamydia infections develop PID, and up to 20 percent of those may become infertile.

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is the second most commonly reported infectious disease in the United States, but like chlamydia, it is under-diagnosed.

Symptoms: Symptoms are usually mild, if present at all, and are often mistaken for symptoms of bladder infection. They can include pain or burning during urination, yellowish or bloody vaginal discharge, abdominal pain or tenderness, heavier menstrual flow, and spotting between periods.

Symptoms vs. exposure time: On the rare occasions when symptoms do occur, they usually appear within 10 days of infection.

Transmission: Gonorrhea is transmitted through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. It can also be passed from mother to baby during vaginal birth.

Treatment: Antibiotics can cure the infection, but they will not repair any permanent damage done to your body by the disease.

Consequences if left untreated: Gonorrhea can lead to PID, chronic pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancy, infertility, and infections that can damage joints and heart tissue. Gonorrhea can also increase your risk of acquiring HIV if you are exposed to the virus.

Genital herpes

Herpes symptoms can come and go, but the virus stays in the nerve cells of your body even when you are not exhibiting signs.

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