STDs in men: Signs and symptoms

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), or sexually transmitted infections (STIs), may affect anyone, but for men and women, the signs and symptoms that vary.

It is important for men to be aware of the signs and symptoms of common STIs, since they are less likely to get tested for these infections than women. Those with STIs have an outstanding outlook, with early treatment.

In this article we look at some of the most common men’s STIs and discuss the signs and symptoms, methods of prevention and treatment options available.

Signs and symptoms of STIs in men

NOTE: Not all STIs have visible symptoms.

People around the globe contract more than 1 million STIs every day according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In some cases an STI has no visible symptoms, so you can have one without realizing it. People may confuse any symptoms that develop for those of other conditions as well.

Below are the most common STIs and the signs and symptoms that might occur in people.

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is a bacterial STI that can be passed on by a person with the infection who has genital, oral or vaginal sex without a condom. Men in urethra, rectum, or throat can get chlamydia.

People call chlamydia a “silent” infection, as some are still unaware of it. Some men’s chlamydia infections cause no symptoms but some men can develop symptoms several weeks after infection.

Typical signs and symptoms of urethra chlamydia in humans include:

  • discharge from the penis
  • pain when urinating
  • burning or itching around the opening of the penis
  • pain and swelling in one or both testicles

Chlamydia infections in the rectum are less common, but they do occur. Although these infections usually have no symptoms, they can cause:

  • rectal pain
  • bleeding
  • discharge

Chlamydia will infect the epidididymis on rare occasions, which is the tube that brings sperm from the testicles into the vas deferens. This could cause:

  • fever
  • pain
  • in rare cases, fertility issues

Diagnosis

Healthcare providers normally collect urine samples in men to check for chlamydia, but instead they may use a cotton swab to get a sample from the urethra.

Treatment

Oral antibiotic treatments for chlamydia are relatively straightforward. Treatment consists of either a single dose or an antibiotic course lasting for 7 days. Repeat infections are normal so it’s prudent to get another chlamydia check after treatment has been completed.

Herpes

Herpes is the herpes simplex virus infection (HSV). There are two types of herpes simplex virus which affect different body parts

  • Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV–1), also called oral herpes, causes cold sores in and around the mouth.
  • Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV–2) almost always spreads through sex without a condom and causes genital herpes.

Most people with herpes will have no symptoms and those who do may have a hard time identifying them.

Signs usually show up 2–12 days after infection. Herpes blisters are sometimes so mild that they may resemble insect bites, incubated feathers, or razor burns.

In men may herpes signs and symptoms include:

  • painful blisters or open sores in or around the mouth
  • blisters on the genitals, rectum, buttocks, or thighs
  • tingling, itching, or burning sensations of the skin around the blisters
  • sore muscles in the lower back, buttocks, and upper legs
  • fever
  • loss of appetite

Diagnosis

Healthcare providers can use the following tests to help diagnose herpes:

  • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test. This test examines the individual’s DNA to see if they have herpes. It can be useful when people do not have any visible symptoms.
  • Blood tests.
  • A cell culture. Healthcare providers use this test when someone has visible sores around their genitals. The test involves collecting a sample of the fluid inside one of the sores.

Treatment

There is no cure for herpes, and people may experience recurrent outbreaks over time. Treatments focus on managing the symptoms and extending the time between outbreaks.

Gonorrhea

A doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat gonorrhea.
A doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat gonorrhea.

Gonorrhea is an infection of the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium. Gonorrhea has the potential to affect urethra, rectum, or throat. Those bacteria can be transmitted by people without a condom by vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Most men suffering from gonorrhea show no symptoms. When gonorrhea is causing symptoms in the urethra, these usually appear 1–14 days after infection.

Common signs and symptoms in men include gonorrhea

Common signs and symptoms of gonorrhea in men include:

  • painful urination
  • white, yellow, or gray discharge from the urethra
  • pain in the testicles
  • itching and soreness in the anus
  • painful bowel movements
  • bloody discharge from the anus

Treatment

Antibiotics may be used by health care providers to treat gonorrhea. The CDC should recommend combined ceftriaxone and azithromycin therapy. Medication will stop the infection but no damage caused by the disease will be repaired.

Healthcare providers are increasingly concerned about the rise of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, which will make it much more difficult, if not impossible, to successfully treat.

Syphilis

Bacteria are also responsible for the syphilis that is transmitted by people without a condom through vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

Men who have sex with men (MSM) are at increased risk of syphilis. In 2017, almost 70 percent of the cases of primary and secondary syphilis were at MSM.

Also known as “The Great Pretender” is syphilis, because its signs can mimic those of other diseases. Signs usually show up 10–90 days after infection, with an average of 21 days.

Symptoms of developing syphilis in phases known as primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary. Each stage has its own unique set of symptoms which may last for weeks, months, or even years.

The symptoms of primary syphilis include:

  • a small, firm sore where the bacteria initially entered the body, usually on the penis, anus, mouth, or lips
  • sores can also appear on the fingers or buttocks
  • swollen lymph nodes in the neck, groin, or armpits

Secondary syphilis can cause the following signs and symptoms:

  • skin rashes on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
  • large gray or white lesions in the mouth, anus, armpit, or groin
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • a sore throat
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • hair loss
  • muscle aches

The latent, or “hidden,” syphilis stage, during which no apparent symptoms occur, can last for several years.

Is very rare tertiary syphilis. It can cause serious complications of health that affect multiple systems of organs. The tertiary-syphilis symptoms include:

  • meningitis
  • stroke
  • dementia
  • blindness
  • heart problems
  • numbness

Diagnosis

It is possible that health care providers will run blood tests or analyze some of the fluid from a sore to check for syphilis.

Treatment

A health care provider may prescribe benzathine benzylpenicillin as an antibiotic for the treatment of primary, secondary, and early latent syphilis. Those with penicillin allergies will need to use a particular antibiotic, such as doxycycline or azithromycin.

While antibiotics can prevent progression of the infection, they can not repair any permanent damage that may result from the infection.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus which attacks immune cells in the body.

HIV spreads by contact with body fluids infected, such as semen, vaginal fluids, and blood. The most common method of transmission is having sexual intercourse with no condom.

Within 2–6 weeks of infection, many people who have HIV will experience flu-like symptoms. Popular HIV signs and symptoms in humans are:

  • fever
  • a sore throat
  • a body rash
  • headaches

Other symptoms may include:

  • fatigue
  • joint and muscle pain
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • nausea and vomiting

Treatment

There is no cure for HIV, but health care providers does recommend effective treatment to prevent symptoms, transmission, and progression to stage 3 HIV, also known as AIDS.

Health care providers treat HIV using antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART reduces HIV levels in the blood and other body fluids.

When people take certain medicines as instructed, they eliminate the risk of transmitting the disease to others. This is not transmittable when HIV is undetectable, meaning it can not travel from one person to another.

With the currently available treatments, it is impossible that HIV progresses into AIDS.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis is a hepatic inflammation that often occurs as a result of a viral infection. The Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is one of the most common hepatitis viruses. HBV can spread in blood, semen, and other body fluids between people.

Healthcare providers will either identify an HBV infection as acute, meaning it is transient and will last for a couple of weeks, or chronic, in which case it will be a serious and lifelong illness.

Most people with hepatitis B show no symptoms and those who do can mistake them for symptoms of cold or flu. When symptoms develop on average 90 days after HBV exposure.

Hepatitis B signs and symptoms include:

  • fever
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • muscle and joint pain
  • jaundice, which causes dark urine and a yellowing of the skin

Prevention

Hepatitis B is impossible to prevent. As with HPV, a vaccine that protects against hepatitis B is also available. The World Health Organization (WHO) is recommending for all children at least three doses of the hepatitis B vaccine.

Diagnosis

Health care providers may look for signs of liver damage, including jaundice, for example. Some interventions that can help in diagnosing hepatitis B include:

  • blood tests
  • liver ultrasound
  • liver biopsy

Treatment

Treatment for acute hepatitis B is currently not available. People can however use medications for chronic hepatitis B, and scientists are developing new medicines.

People with chronic hepatitis B may require regular medical check-ups for symptoms of hepatitis B.

Outlook

Most people who develop an STI have no symptoms, meaning the actual number of cases of STI is likely to be much higher than the number of cases seen by health care providers.

Most people with STIs have a good outlook with treatment. However, if infections don’t receive treatment, they can become chronic, lifelong diseases.

People can prevent STIs through the use of condoms during intercourse. Many STIs may also be removed with vaccines.

People who are sexually active will make sure they get STI checks. Early detection of such infections will allow quicker treatment and will prevent men from transmitting infections to others.

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