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Trichomoniasis

Causes, symptoms and available treatments for trichomoniasis

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Dr Hilary Jones discusses trichomonas vaginalis and the treatments available at HealthExpress

Trichomoniasis – also referred to as "trich" - is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a small parasite known as trichomonas vaginalis (or TV). Symptoms of this particular STI tend to appears within a month, however around half of people don't show any symptoms whatsoever. Affecting the man's urethra and prostate gland, and a woman's urethra and vagina, it is relatively uncommon, however your sexual health specialist will test for it during your routine check-up if asked.

In fact, around 7.4 million cases of trichomoniasis are treated every year and while it is usually symptomless, if symptoms do reveal themselves, it can be particularly uncomfortable. Luckily, trichomoniasis can be treated with an antibiotic treatment that can be ordered from HealthExpress. More information regarding trichomoniasis can be found further below.

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What is trichomoniasis?

Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) under the parasitic category. This means, unlike viral STIs, it can be cured completely with antibiotics. Caused by the protozoan parasite known as trichomonas vaginalis, it is possible to transfer the infection to your partner(s) without revealing any of the symptoms, emphasising the importance of getting periodic sexual health testing if you're sexually active.

As you can tell by the name of the parasite, trichomoniasis mainly affects women, however men can still be affected.

How common is trichomoniasis?

Despite not being as well-known as bacterial STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea, trich is the most common curable STI for women in the UK. It can be spread just as easily and can cause long-term health complications if not treated.[1]

What causes trichomoniasis?

A tiny parasite called trichomonas vaginalis is responsible for the STI and it is thought that penetrative unprotected sex is the main cause. It is also possible to catch trich through sharing wet objects such as towels and sex toys as this allows the parasite to survive for longer. Medical professionals and sources such as the NHS state that oral and anal sex can not give you trichomoniasis so the simplest way to avoid the STI is to practice safe sex by using condoms and get tested when necessary. As trich is a parasitic infection, it can be cured completely with antibiotics. This doesn't mean you won't get the infection again and it can pass onto others, regardless of whether symptoms are present.

While the probability of you catching any STI increases if you have sex with multiple partners, especially when unprotected, the reality is you only need one occasion to contract many forms of sexually transmitted infections.

Symptoms of trichomoniasis

The issue with this infection is that many people don't show any symptoms at all. Less than half of those with the infection will get trichomoniasis symptoms, and these will usually appear between five days and a month after being infected, however it could take longer. It is more likely to experience the symptoms of trichomoniasis if you are female.

Trichmoniasis symptoms in women

All symptoms of trich usually affect the vagina and urethra. You may be experiencing one or many of the following:

  • Itching and redness around the vagina; Soreness and swelling
  • Itching around the thighs
  • Urge to urinate much more
  • Pain when passing urine
  • Pain during sex
  • Pain in the lower abdomen
  • Swelling of the groin
  • Strong/foul smell
  • Unusual discharge; Frothy, yellow or green in colour

Trichomoniasis symptoms in men

For men, trich symptoms are usually associated with the penis, urethra or prostate. Male symptoms of trichomoniasis may include one or more of the following:

  • Soreness and itching inside the penis or around the head
  • Urge to urinate frequently
  • Pain after urinating; usually a burning sensation
  • Pain after ejaculating; usually a burning sensation
  • Unusual discharge; thin white discharge
  • Swelling and redness around the head on the penis and foreskin

These symptoms can be similar to other STIs, so it is advised to get fully tested before buying trichomoniasis treatment. You can do this at your local sexual health clinic, or GUM clinic, that you can find when typing your postcode on the NHS sexual wellbeing section. Alternatively, you can buy STI testing kits online if you are looking for additional discretion and/or are unable to get to a clinic.

Practising safe sex is always a smart move, especially if you have a new partner or multiple sexual partners. Despite trichomoniasis not exposing any signs for the majority of people, you can be tested for it during your sexual health routine check-up, which is advised.

Benefits of treating trichomoniasis

If you're experiencing symptoms of this STI, then treating trich will get rid of any discomfort completely, which is a massive benefit in itself. However, if you have had an STI test that has come back positive for trich then treating it may yield the following benefits:

  • Reduced risk of infertility
  • Reduced risk of premature birth

Trichomoniasis can cause long-term problems when it isn't treated including increasing the likelihood of you contracting other STIs, including incurable infections such as HIV. In fact, not treating many sexually transmitted infections can increase the risk of getting HIV by three times.

How to treat trichomoniasis

Diagnosing trichomoniasis?

If you happen to be showing symptoms, trichomoniasis will be fairly easy to diagnose, however your doctor may still ask for a swab just to confirm fully. For women, this can include a pelvic exam and swab to collect a sample of fluids. This will be examined under a microscope for the trichomonas vaginalis parasite.

For men, diagnosing STIs is often difficult as it can be far more invasive than for women. The majority of the time, men will be treated for trichomoniasis if their sexual partner has the infection, or if a past sexual partner has been in contact with them suggesting they should get tested. If you do have symptoms, your doctor may take a swab of the discharge or soreness present to examine under the microscope.

You can get tested for trichomoniasis at your local sexual health clinic, GUM clinic or even online. Some GP surgeries may offer STI testing, however they may be reluctant so do check beforehand. If you do have symptoms, then the likelihood of them testing for trich is higher than if you're asymptomatic.

Prescription treatment

Trichomoniasis will not go away by itself but fortunately is completely curable. A course of antibiotics, Metronidazole, will get rid of the infection and are usually taken for up to seven days, of which you must avoid sexual intercourse during this time as well as shunning alcohol, which can trigger side effects such as vomiting.

It's important to tell your sexual partner(s) as it will spread, and you will get it again if they are not treated.

Preventing Trichomoniasis

Even if you have received treatment for a trichomoniasis infection and are now in the clear, it does not mean that you are now immune to it or other STIs. In order to prevent becoming infected again by trich or other STIs it is always advised to practise safe sex. This reduces the risks of you contracting or passing on an STI to a partner. Other ways to prevent this sexual infection include:

  • Use a condom when engaging in penetrative or oral sex
  • Avoid the sharing of sexual toys unless they are thoroughly cleaned or covered with a condom[2]

If you are unsure if you have a sexual infection, it is best that you seek the relevant help and have a sexual health test at your local GUM clinic when possible or alternatively order a STI home test kit here.

What treatment options are available?

The only option available for trichomoniasis is prescription treatment in the form of a course of antibiotics called Metronidazole that will require a consultation in the UK. If you have been diagnosed with trichomoniasis then you can obtain medication online at HealthExpress, avoiding a face-to-face appointment at your doctors and wait times in the surgery and pharmacy.

If you order Metronidazole tablets before 4pm, you will receive your dosage the next day, or the same day if you live within London. This means you can rest assured your medication will arrive as soon as possible, making you fighting fit in no time.

Sources

Dr Hilary Jones, HealthExpress Medical Advisor

What to do if I experience trichomoniasis?

Trichomonas vaginalis is a parasitic STI that is more common in women than men. It can eventually lead to complications, but is easy to treat.

Click here to find the right treatment for you