If you are waiting to notice a rash or an unusual discharge before getting an STD test, you could be putting your health in danger.
Many STDs don’t have any symptoms or only show a few minor symptoms that are easy to confuse for something else.
This leads many to delay testing until the infection has progressed to the point where it’s harder to treat or has caused severe health complications.
It’s one of the possible reasons behind the worrying increase in STD cases in the US. People with undiagnosed STDs unknowingly spread it to their sexual partners.
Here are 7 STDs that show no symptoms in most people but can lead to dire health consequences when left untreated.
Chlamydia is the most common STD in the United States, with 1.7 million infections reported in 2017.
Despite its prevalence, many people with the infection don’t realize it. That’s because, in most people, chlamydia shows no symptoms
On average, 75% of women and about half of the men with the infection are asymptomatic, meaning they don’t have any obvious symptoms.
So many infections can go undiagnosed and untreated. The long-term effects can be life-changing, especially for women.
Untreated chlamydia can lead to ectopic pregnancy, pelvic inflammatory disease, and infertility.
In men, untreated chlamydia can lead to epididymitis, an inflammation of a tube in the testicles that sometimes lead to reduced sperm count and, rarely, infertility.
Gonorrhea is the second most common STD in the US. It’s especially common among young people between 15 and 24 years.
While it’s treatable, it is becoming increasingly resistant to common antibiotics.
Like chlamydia, gonorrhea doesn’t present any symptoms in most people, at least in the beginning. If they occur, they are mild, and it’s easy to confuse them for something else like a bladder infection.
Untreated gonorrhea can spread to other parts of the reproductive system like the uterus and fallopian tubes. It can cause enough damage to cause ectopic pregnancy or infertility.
In men, it increases the risk of epididymitis.
Another complication that can result from not getting treatment soon enough is disseminated gonococcal infection or DGI. It happens when gonorrhea spreads through the blood leading to arthritis and skin problems.
Also, note that untreated gonorrhea increases your risk of contracting HIV.
Syphilis is another bacterial STI that is treatable if diagnosed early but can have permanent and life-threatening effects if left untreated for long.
Like chlamydia and gonorrhea, syphilis either shows no symptoms or has very mild symptoms that are easy to ignore.
Sometimes, the symptoms come and go. The infection can even go dormant for years at a time.
Eventually, it develops into secondary syphilis and then late-stage syphilis, by when the infection will already have caused some damage to your body.
Untreated syphilis can lead to damage to various organs, including the liver, heart, eyes, brain, and bones. This can lead to serious conditions such as blindness, paralysis, and brain damage.
Even though syphilis at any stage is curable, any damage it causes is irreversible.
4. Human papillomavirus (HPV)
You’ll probably get HPV at one point in your life. Most people will. That’s how common the virus is.
The good news is that most strains of HPV are harmless and go away on their own. But some HPV infections can lead to cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus or throat depending on the location of the infection.
There’s no treatment for HPV. But vaccination can protect against most strains that lead to cancer.
The HPV vaccination is recommended starting at 11 or 12 years of age, for both boys and girls. But anyone between 9 and 45 can get an HPV vaccine.
5. Genital Herpes
Most people with genital herpes have no idea they have it. So it’s easy to spread it to other people.
While it has no treatment or vaccine, there’s the medication you can take to reduce symptoms and lessen the risk of spreading it to other people.
If not managed, genital herpes increases the risk of contracting HIV and other STIs. It can also lead to meningitis, though it’s rare.
Pregnant women with genital herpes can pass it on to newborns, which can cause blindness, brain damage, or even death.
Trichomoniasis is a little-known but wide-spread sexually transmitted infection. Most people having this infection have no symptoms.
But it’s an easily curable STD. If left untreated, it stays in the body for months or years, with symptoms coming and going.
The main complication resulting from untreated trichomoniasis is an increase in the risk of contracting HIV and cervical cancer.
For pregnant women, untreated trichomoniasis can lead to preterm delivery and newborns with low birth weight.
When HIV first enters the body, it either shows no symptoms or has mild flu-like symptoms. It then goes into a latent period where the infection is dormant.
It can last up to 10 years for people not on medication.
If you don’t get tested early and start managing the infection, it progresses much faster, causing the immune system to deteriorate quickly.
It also causes all sorts of health complications – which are referred to as opportunistic diseases – some of which like meningitis and pneumonia can lead to death.
As long as you are having sex, you should get tested for STDs regularly. That’s the only way to catch an STD early and get treatment or medication to manage it.
If you don’t want to go to your doctor or an STD testing clinic, there are other alternatives that offer more privacy.
Some of the latest anonymous STD tests include online lab testing and at-home test kits.