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Information on symptoms, risks and treatments for common STIs

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STI Information

If you are looking for more information about STIs, we have a range of resources available. If you would like to know more about the symptoms of a particular STI or what to do if you have an STI, you can find the answers here at HealthExpress.

visit our STI gallery to find out what STIs like genital warts and herpes look like

What are STIs?

Sexually transmitted infections (more commonly referred to as STIs or STDs) are infections transmitted through close, intimate contact. The vast majority of the time, they are spread through sexual activity however there are some exceptions to the rule. For example, genital herpes is classed as an STI, however there is a minute chance it can be caught through sharing objects such as razors and towels.

Types of STIs can be split into three categories; bacterial, viral and parasitic. Some are far more common than others due to their highly contagious nature.

  • Bacterial infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea, and parasitic infections such as crabs are easily treated with a course of antibiotics and/or creams.
  • Viral infections, such as genital herpes and genital warts, are life-long conditions. Whilst these infections are chronic, the majority of people find their symptoms are infrequent and mild, if they appear at all.

The number of people catching STDs and STIs has been consistently rising since the 1990s. According to the NHS, nearly 207,000 people in the UK tested positive for the most common sexually transmitted infection, chlamydia, in 2012 whilst 32,279 people contracted their first bout of genital herpes in 2013. Recent statistics have shown that STI consultations in Europe have continued to rise over the years.

“Most STIs are often asymptomatic (they have absolutely no symptoms) - as many as 70% of women and 50% of men who have an STI don’t show any symptoms making it vital to get checked out if you’ve have unprotected sex.”

Full list of STIs and STDs




Conditions often mistaken for a sexually transmitted infection

Mistaken STIs are conditions associated with sexual health, but aren’t classed as sexually transmitted infections. Some of these ‘faux’ STIs have similar symptoms as well. For example, the itchiness and burning could be an UTI or thrush.

*HealthExpress is able to offer treatment for the following STIs. Please click the links for more information or treatment.

Difference between an STI and an STD

A sexually transmitted infection (STI) is defined by the existence of bacteria, germs or parasites in the body and doesn’t necessarily result in the disease.

Another easy comparison is the presence of symptoms; an STD (or any sort of disease) will always reveal its symptoms whereas the vast majority of STIs will not.

Whilst the two terms do essentially stand for the same thing, the term STI is a more accurate representation for what is most commonly an infection, rather than a disease.

Therefore professionals have been more partial to stating sexually transmitted infections.

Causes of STIs

STIs can be highly contagious and they can be present in semen, dirt, blood, vaginal secretions and occasionally saliva. The vast majority of the time, people will catch an STI through penetrative sex including vaginal and anal sex, however there are other ways to be aware of.

Can you get an STI from oral sex?

Yes, sexually transmitted infections (STI) and sexually transmitted diseases (STD) can be spread through all sexual activity. Anyone who is sexually active and not taking the correct precautions is at risk of catching an STI, and some infections are more common than others.

Can physical contact give me an STI?

It is highly unlikely that common physical contact will cause an STI because as bacteria or parasite do not survive for long after leaving the area of infection. If there is a high level of contact, dry humping (also referred to as dry sex or frottage) for example, this can give you certain STIs like genital warts, genital herpes (HPV), crabs, molloscum contagiosum and syphilis.

Can sex toys give me an STI?

Sharing devices such as sex toys can also lead to an infection if the person you are sharing with has an STI. It’s worth mentioning that not cleaning your sex toys can also lead to conditions such as thrush, or any other skin condition, as bacteria thrives in moist conditions.

What objects can give me an STI?

Whilst this is also highly unlikely, items such as toothbrushes, razors, cups and towels can harbour STIs and transfer them from person to person.

Many people are unaware of the unusual ways a sexually transmitted infection can be caught. HealthExpress have a helpful infographic that can help: Weird Ways To Catch an STI.

Although the likelihood of getting a sexually transmitted infection increases with multiple sexual partners, it only takes one occasion for you to contract an infection or disease.

Symptoms of STIs

In most cases you will not experience any symptoms at all, especially for bacterial infections. This makes it even more important to be tested if you’re sexually active, and practice safe sex with barrier methods such as condoms and dental dams whenever necessary. If you’re experiencing STI symptoms, you shouldn’t panic; most are completely curable with the right course of medication.

The symptoms you’re experiencing will be dependant on the STI. For example, genital warts will be the appearance of warts that may itch but are more often than not painless, whilst unusual discharge is associated with bacterial infections such as chlamydia.

What are common STI symptoms?

  • Pain when urinating or during sex
  • Itching, burning or tingling around the genitals
  • Blisters, warts and/or sores
  • Spots or lumps around the genitals or anus
  • Unusual bleeding or discharge

For bacterial and viral infections, symptoms can vary:

Bacterial STI symptoms

  • Bleeding after sex or between periods
  • Pelvic or lower abdominal pain
  • Pain during sex or urination
  • Unusual discharge from penis, vagina or anus
  • Irritation, soreness or itching around your genital area

Bacterial STIs can be cured with antibiotic treatments such as Azithromycin or Doxycycline.

Viral STI symptoms

Viral infections will always show symptoms eventually. These symptoms may not manifest straight away and sometimes they may take months, or even years to appear. They cannot be cured but the symptoms will lie dormant most of the time and when they appear, they can be managed quickly and effectively with the right treatment.

Genital herpes symptoms include:

  • Tingling sensation around genital area
  • Dark patches on skin
  • Sores around the penis, vagina, anus or groin area
  • Swollen glands
  • Abdominal pains

We offer 3 treatments for genital herpes; Valtrex, Famvir and Aciclovir.

Genital warts symptoms include:

  • Single or groups of small growths on and around the genitals
  • Disruption to your urine flow, if internal growths are present
  • We offer 3 treatments for genital warts; Aldara, Condyline and Warticon.

    STI symptoms in men

    Many men don’t encounter any STI symptoms, especially for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, hepatitis B, herpes, trichomoniasis and HPV. However, common symptoms can be:

    • Chlamydia; pain when urinating, penile discharge and swollen testicles
    • Gonorrhoea; pain when urinating, green/white or yellow discharge and swollen testicles
    • Hepatitis; lethargic, fever, nausea or vomiting and loss of appetite
    • Herpes; itching and/or burning, blisters, fever, tingling sensation and loss of appetite
    • HPV; genital warts or mouth/throat warts
    • Trichomoniasis; pain when urinating, white discharge and inflamed foreskin

    STI symptoms in women

    Women tend to have more symptoms than men. It gives a clear indication you require treatment, which will clear up any discomfort swiftly:

    • Chlamydia; pain when urinating, burning sensation when urinating, vaginal discharge, lower abdomen pain, pain during and after sex and bleeding during or after sex
    • Gonorrhoea; the same symptoms as chlamydia
    • HPV; genital warts and mouth/throat warts
    • Herpes; cold sores, itching, tingling and pain when urinating
    • Trichomoniasis; frothy, yellow or watery discharge, itching and pain when urinating

    It’s worth mentioning that you may not experience all of the following symptoms for each STI. If you experience any signs, or others that concern you, you should seek medical help immediately. Alternatively, check out our STI symptoms (STI gallery) to pinpoint which STI you may have before consultation:

    Do I have an STI? Use our symptom checker

    If you happen to be suffering from one or more symptoms and are embarrassed or unable to visit your doctor, then try our HealthExpress STI symptom checker before seeking additional treatment:

    How to treat STIs

    Bacterial STIs are often treated with a course of antibiotics and can be completely cured. Viral STIs like HIV and genital herpes can’t be cured, but they can be treated and very manageable. Some antibiotics are prescribed as a one-off dose, whereas others might be prescribed as a course of treatment. What prescription you are issued will depend on what STI you’ve been diagnosed with and how severe your case is.

    With all medication, it is advised to complete the entire course even if your symptoms have disappeared half way through.

    Treatment is an essential aspect to subduing and eliminating STIs, however you can help the medication be even more effective by taking at a similar time every day and following the correct procedure. This will vary depending on the course of treatment you’re taking and you should always read the patient leaflet before taking.

    It’s important to get treatment as soon as possible to avoid lasting health complications.

    List of treatable STIs

    • Chlamydia
    • Crabs (lice)
    • Genital herpes (though often recurring)
    • Genital warts (not curable - but easily manageable)
    • Gonorrhea
    • Trichomonas

    Other conditions such as Ureaplasma Urealyticum, which often appear alongside the more commonly known STIs, are also treatable.

    How to prevent STIs

    The easiest way to prevent STIs is by practising safe sex. Whilst it is important to note that condoms and dental dams aren’t effective 100% of the time (parasitic and viral STI can be present around a certain area such as the thighs and anus rather than solely localised to the genitals), they make the chance of contracting an infection very slim. If you are sexually active on a regular basis, especially with different partners, STI testing is smart and will help you avoid the consequences of an infection, or any symptoms that may occur further down the line.

    It’s important to get tested as STIs left untreated can cause damage to your reproductive organs and play a part in the development of other health problems, such as epididymitis, pelvic inflammatory disease and cervical cancer.

    STI testing – what I should do next?

    If you think you have an STI (STD), have had unprotected sex or would simply like a check up then you can get tested in a number of ways:

    Sexual health clinic or GUM clinics - Free walk-in services are available across the UK. For your local clinic, you can search the NHS services for opening times. Most also offer a text service now, which means you can book yourself into a specific slot. Whilst your GP will seldom order a full STI test, the STI clinics have brilliant resources and friendly experienced staff. One downside is that STI and GUM clinics don’t offer specific appointment times, and you’re advised to leave a period of 2 hours as your wait time. However it is free, completely confidential and considered essential and very smart.

    For those in Monday-Friday employment it can be difficult to find the time however for a test once or twice a year, in the grand schemes of things, it doesn’t take much.

    GP surgeries - Some GP surgeries offer STI testing however this will be basic and often your doctor will advise you to visit a sexual clinic instead. You will need to double check with your particular practice before booking. In terms of the human papillomavirus (HPV), abnormal cells will turn up in your pap (smear) test and you will require more frequent testing (once or twice a year).

    Pharmacies – Some pharmacies, including Boots, offer free tests for chlamydia and gonorrhoea under the age of 25, however this doesn’t include tests for viruses such as the human papillomavirus, which affects 90% of sexually active people in the UK.

    Online test kits – Online pharmaceutical sites offer an STI test including us at HealthExpress that you can order confidentially and complete at home. Our complete test covers the following STIs; chlamydia, gonorrhoea, genital herpes, gardnerella vaginalis (BV), mycoplasma genitalium, trichomonas vaginalis and ureaplasma urealyticum

    Alternatively if you already know what STI you have, if you’re experiencing a recurrent outbreak for example, see the link below to our STI treatments page, or head to ‘Types of STI’ and click on the relevant infection.

    What are the options we have to offer for STIs

    At HealthExpress, we offer treatment online for nine STIs; chlamydia, gonorrhoea, ureaplasma urealyticum, mycoplasma genitalium, non-specific urethritis, genital herpes, genital warts and trichomonas vaginalis.

    Our treatment also extends to conditions linked to sexual health, including thrush (for male and female), bacterial vaginosis (BV), cystitis and the herpes virus.

    If you are unsure about your symptoms, or would just like a check up, and can’t make it to the GUM clinic then we offer STI tests online. You can order specific infection tests if you’re experiencing symptoms you’d like clarifying before ordering treatment, or the full STI test pack that covers seven common STIs.