If you’re sexually active, a vital part of your well-woman exam is getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), since treating them promptly is crucial to your overall health and well-being.
According to Planned Parenthood, 75% of women with chlamydia show no symptoms, and it takes about a decade for HIV symptoms to appear, so testing is essential, as is treatment if results are positive.
Fortunately, you’re in the best hands with Dr. Kiran Joshi and the Garden State Women’s Center team for all of your women’s health care needs.
The blend of medical expertise and warmth that defines Dr Joshi’s approach makes her a true partner in your care — which she can nimbly deliver in five languages!
What is a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?
STDs are infections spread through sexual contact and can be viral, fungal, bacterial, or parasitic.
STDs infect about 20 million Americans per year and are on the rise. Common STDs include:
- Bacterial STDs, like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis. Left untreated, gonorrhea can cause serious complications like pelvic inflammatory disease, chlamydia can permanently damage your reproductive system, and syphilis has four progressive stages and can result in organ, bone, and joint damage that emerge decades after infection and can be fatal.
- Viral STDs include human papillomavirus (HPV), genital herpes, and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).
HPV is the most common STD in our country. Though there are many types of HPV that most people clear within two years, some don’t. This can lead to certain cancers and genital warts. HPV can be prevented by getting the HPV vaccine. Boys and girls should receive the vaccine at age 11 or 12, but you can get the vaccine up to age 26. If you’re older than that, speak with Dr. Joshi about receiving it, as in some cases it’s appropriate for people up to age 45.
Gential herpes causes blisters around your genitals, rectum, and mouth, and outbreaks occur throughout your life.
HIV hurts your immune system by destroying infection-fighting white blood cells. Ninety percent of HIV infections are related to the exchange of body fluids through sex, with the other 10% being related to IV drug use. The last stage of untreated HIV is Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which puts you at risk for infections and cancers that can be fatal.
When you get tested with us, Dr. Joshi orders a blood test, a Pap smear, and a urine test, as they all check for different STDs. Routine Pap smears are important too, since HPV is associated with cervical cancer. Depending on your age, Dr. Joshi discusses how often you should get a Pap smear or be tested for HPV.
What if I test positive for an STD?
If you’re diagnosed with an STD, you may feel shocked, frightened, and worried about your and your partner’s health. You may also blame your partner for contracting the STD, and the effects on your relationship can be profound.
The emotional component of testing positive shouldn’t be ignored. It may be important to grieve your diagnosis, seek counseling, connect with others who’ve been diagnosed in person or virtually, and engage in good self-care like spending time in nature and developing a mindfulness practice. These are all helpful steps that help you support your mental health. Take time also to eat right, exercise, and get enough rest.
While some STDs can be treated relatively easily, others require more time or additional testing before you can breathe easily. Treatments that Dr. Joshi prescribes include antibiotics and other drugs, as well as prophylactic treatments that can prevent some STDs, such as the HPV vaccine.
It’s also important to note that if you’re prescribed antibiotic treatment for an STD, it’s critical to take every dose of your medication, because failing to do so means that all the bacteria may not be killed.
Dr. Joshi will also provide guidance on when it is safe to have sex again. Typically, either waiting until treatment is done and, in some cases, for seven days after completion of treatment is advised.
If you notice any symptoms that align with an STD, like burning with urination, genital sores or warts, or unusual vaginal discharge or bleeding, seek treatment immediately. With conditions like syphilis that progress over many decades, symptoms can become life-threatening and include seizures and organ failure. This is a powerful argument for routine testing.
Practicing safe sex by using a dental dam or condom every time you have sex protects you and your partner against contracting all types of STDs.
It may be hard to discuss these things with your doctor — and even your partner — but doing so represents a step toward living your life in a sex-positive, responsible way.
If you’re worried that you might have an STD or want to test to determine if you do, call our Hackensack, New Jersey, office at 201-228-9596 to schedule an appointment for testing, or use our convenient online booking tool.