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GP answers Brits most burning questions about STIs

According to research, 1 in 3 adults have turned to the internet to try and self-diagnose a medical condition.

Access to the internet is virtually in the palm of everyone’s hands, and there’s a wealth of information at our fingertips, making self-diagnosing all the more tempting, and can lead to cyberchondria; the heightening of a person’s anxiety about their health caused by online searches for medical information.

A recent report by men’s health platform Manual reveals that the UK is the fourth most anxious country in the world when it comes to sexual transmitted infections (STIs), behind only Australia, the United States and Canada.

The study also discovered which questions and concerns are most frequently Googled, in relation to STIs in the UK.

Below, Dr Earim Chaudry, Medical Director at Manual, answers the internet’s most burning questions about STIs:

What is an STI?

A sexually transmitted infection (STI) is a type of infection or disease that is passed from one person to another, through unprotected sex with an infected person. Some STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea, can also be spread from pregnant mothers to their unborn baby.

STIs are fairly common, and treatment is available. However not all STIs show symptoms. The best way to protect yourself and your partner is by using condoms. And if you’re worried you might have an STI, always consult a medical professional.

What is chlamydia?

Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs which is caused by bacteria, and is spread through sexual contact.

While chlamydia is often symptomless, signs you may have it can include abnormal discharge, a burning sensation when urinating, pain in the lower abdomen and pain in the testicles. Symptoms usually appear between 1 to 3 weeks after having unprotected sex with an infected person.

What is Gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea is another very common STI which is also a bacterial infection spread through sexual contact. Symptoms include unusual discharge, pain when urinating and, in women, bleeding between periods. Some people with the infection may not experience any symptoms.

What is syphilis?

​​Known as “the great imitator”, syphilis is also a bacteria infection that is spread through sexual contact.

In some cases, there are few or no symptoms. However, telltale signs can include firm and painless sores, a rash on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet, white patches in the mouth and a high temperature.

If left untreated, syphilis could cause further health problems with the heart, blood vessels, brain or nervous system.

How long can you have chlamydia before it causes damage?

The length of time an infection can go untreated before causing further health problems differs from person to person. A lot of STIs often don’t show symptoms, and if they are left untreated, can silently lead to further health problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, or chronic pelvic pain.

Chlamydia is one of those infections, and if symptoms do appear they may be very mild. If the infection is left untreated, it could lead to damage to the reproductive system which could potentially cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) for women.

How to treat an STI

STIs caused by bacteria are generally easier to treat, such as gonorrhoea, syphilis and chlamydia. Viral infections such as hepatitis B, herpes, HIV and HPV can be managed but not always cured.

For bacterial infections, treatments include antibiotics which may be administered as an injection or pill, or a course of pills taken over several days. Antiviral drugs are used to manage viral infections.

What contraception is best for me?

Determining what contraception to use is individual and differs from person to person, as it depends on your health and other circumstances. It’s best to speak with a nurse or visit a sexual health clinic to find out which is best suited for you.

The most effective form of contraception to protect against STIs is condoms. Other forms of contraception such as the pill, the implant, an IUD, the injection or the patch do not protect you from an STI.

How to cure an STI without going to the doctor?

An STI can’t be cured without medical intervention such as antibiotics or antiviral drugs. If you think you might have an STI, the best thing to do is consult a medical professional or sexual health clinic. Although it may seem that symptoms come and go, an STI won’t go away on its own and can often be asymptomatic.

It can be an embarrassing or difficult topic, but sexual health clinics offer free, confidential services and are there to help. The sooner an STI is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat.

How to get an STI test?

If you think you might have been exposed to an STI through unprotected sex and want to check whether you have caught an infection, you can do so by visiting a sexual health clinic, or ordering a home test kit.

Sexual health clinics offer free test kits that you can do yourself. Often, a quick and confidential assessment is recommended to figure out which is the most appropriate test kit for you. If you test positive for an STI, you will be advised by a medical professional on the next steps regarding treatment.