“I think I have a sexually transmitted infection, should I ask the internet, or my doctor?”
Feeling like you have an STI, a sexually transmitted infection (often referred to as an STD), can be a scary thing. Maybe you have a partner that you’re not sure has been faithful to you, or you’re feeling symptoms that have you concerned. It could be that you have just now become sexually active, and you find yourself in a new situation that you’re not sure how to handle. Maybe you get the gut-punch of a partner who tells you, “I have chlamydia, and you have to get treated too.” No matter how you find yourself worried about STI’s, it’s not something you should ignore.
A growing, serious problem that shouldn’t be ignored
Hopefully this article will provide some helpful counsel about understanding STI’s and the risks that go along with them. STI’s should be taken seriously. The challenge is that many sexually transmitted infections have no symptoms, or they are very mild. Also, many people feel embarrassed to go to a clinic or a doctor because they don’t want anyone to know. There are some people who know that they’re infected, but they don’t seek treatment because they don’t realize the risks of untreated infections.
Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), numbers of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are at an all-time high in the United States. 2017 was the 4th straight year in which STI’s are rising, and there’s no sign of the trend slowing down. The CDC went so far as to call it a public health crisis. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) looked at users of the online platform Reddit who posted on their STI message board. Of all the users on this message board, 58% of them were asking other users to help diagnose their sexually transmitted infection, some going so far as to post pictures of their symptoms.
Why would somebody go to an online message board instead
of a medical clinic?
It could be because getting an online opinion takes a fraction of the time that going to the doctor does. It’s also free, unlike many clinics. Also, the shame related to the diagnosis of an STI keeps some people from seeing a doctor. They’d rather get an anonymous opinion online and try to handle it themselves.
Why that’s a really, really bad idea . . .
Here is the problem with getting an online opinion: they’re frequently wrong. A wrong diagnosis can cause someone to think they’re fine when they’re not, which can lead them to spreading a disease to unsuspecting partners or just going untreated themselves.
So why is that a big deal? Here are some risks related to the three most common STI’s:
Chlamydia: It’s a bacterial infection that can spread to the uterus and fallopian tubes, causing PID (pelvic inflammatory disease). Long term, it can cause pelvic pain, increased risk of ectopic pregnancy, and increased risk of infertility. In men, it can cause rare complications of testicular problems and sometimes infertility.
Gonorrhea: This infection is caused by bacteria that can infect the urethra, rectum, throat or cervix. If it’s not treated, it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and pregnancy complications. In men, it can cause epididymitis and can lead to infertility. Gonorrhea can also spread to joints and cause fever, rash, skin sores and swelling.
Syphilis: Syphilis is a bacterial infection that starts as a painless sore — typically on your genitals, rectum or mouth. Sometimes the sore can be hidden in the vagina or rectum and since it’s painless, it can go unnoticed. It resolves in 2-3 weeks and if not treated, the secondary stage begins. The secondary stage involves a rash that covers the body, even hands and feet, followed by aches, fever, and even hair loss. This phase can come and go as long as you’re infected. If still untreated, it can infect other organs of the body and even the brain. Syphilis can also be passed to a baby during birth.
What CAN you do? What SHOULD you do?
So, what should you do? If you’re worried about an STI, go get treatment! Online opinions are not a real answer. Only a medical test can tell you for sure if you have an infection or you don’t. Until you are treated, you are contagious and can spread the infection to your sexual partners. Treatment is either an antibiotic pill, or injection or both, depending on which STI you have. You should also be re-tested 3 months after treatment to make sure that it was effective.
If you (or someone you know) suspects that you might have contracted and STD, you should contact your doctor immediately for an appointment.
However, if you are not ready to talk to a doctor, it could be helpful to discuss your symptoms, concerns and options in a confidential and helpful setting with someone who has answers.
All you have to do is privately schedule an appointment to come in and speak with one of our many nurses. They can administer an STD test, and discuss results and next steps with you. They are knowledgeable, compassionate and can offer the support and direction you need.
Best of all, there is no charge whatsoever for the test, the appointment or the appointment.
You deserve to know. Take control of your own health!