Trichomoniasis (patient information)
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Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis. It affects both women and men, but symptoms are more common in women. Symptoms in women include a green or yellow discharge from the vagina, itching in or near the vagina and discomfort with urination. Most men with trichomoniasis don't have any symptoms, but it can cause irritation inside the penis. You can cure trichomoniasis with antibiotics. In men, the infection usually goes away on its own without causing symptoms. But an infected man can continue to infect or reinfect a woman until he gets treated. So it's important that both partners get treated at the same time. Correct usage of latex condoms greatly reduces, but does not eliminate, the risk of catching or spreading trichomoniasis.
What causes Trichomoniasis?
Trichomoniasis is found worldwide. In the United States, the highest number of cases are seen in women between age 16 and 35. Trichomonas vaginalis is spread through sexual contact with an infected partner. This includes penis-to-vagina intercourse or vulva-to-vulva contact. The parasite cannot survive in the mouth or rectum.
The disease can affect both men and women, but the symptoms differ between the two groups. The infection usually does not cause symptoms in men and goes away on its own in a few weeks.
What are the symptoms of Trichomoniasis?
About 70% of infected people do not have any signs or symptoms. When trichomoniasis does cause symptoms, they can range from mild irritation to severe inflammation. Some people with symptoms get them within 5 to 28 days after being infected, but others do not develop symptoms until much later. Symptoms can come and go. Having trichomoniasis can make it feel unpleasant to have sex. Without treatment, the infection can last for months or even years.
- Discomfort with intercourse
- Itching of the inner thighs
- Vaginal discharge (thin, greenish-yellow, frothy or foamy)
- Vaginal itching
- Vulvar itching or swelling of the labia
- Vaginal odor (foul or strong smell)
Who is at highest risk?
Women between the ages of 16-35 make up the largest demographic affected by Trichomoniasis. Other at-risk groups include persons with a compromised immune system, sexually active individuals engaging with multiple partners, and sexually active individuals who do not use condoms consistently and effectively.
When to seek urgent medical care?
It is not possible to diagnose trichomoniasis based on symptoms alone. For both men and women, your primary care doctor or another trusted health care provider must do a check and a laboratory test to diagnose trichomoniasis.
In women: A pelvic examination shows red blotches on the vaginal wall or cervix. A wet prep (microscopic examination of discharge) shows the infection-causing organisms in vaginal fluids. A pap smear may also diagnose the condition.
In men: The disease can be hard to diagnose in men. Men are treated if the infection is diagnosed in any of their sexual partners. Men may also be treated if they have ongoing symptoms of urethral burning or itching despite treatment for gonorrhea and chlamydia.
You should not drink alcohol while taking the medicine and for 48 hours afterwards. Doing so can cause severe nausea, abdominal pain, and vomiting.
Avoid sexual intercourse until treatment has been completed. Sexual partners should be treated at the same time, even if they have no symptoms. If you have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection, you should be screened for other ones.
What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?
With proper treatment, the outcome is likely to be excellent. Individuals, generally, make a full recovery.
Long-term infection may cause changes in the tissue on the cervix. These changes may be seen on a routine Pap smear. In such cases, treatment should be started and the Pap smear repeated 3 to 6 months later. Treatment of trichomoniasis helps prevent the spread of the disease to sexual partners. Scientific studies suggest that trichomoniasis is associated with at least a 3- to 5-fold increased risk of HIV transmission.
Pregnant women with trichomoniasis are more likely to have their babies too early (preterm delivery). Also, babies born to infected mothers are more likely to have an officially low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds). More research is needed.
A monogamous sexual relationship with a known healthy partner can help reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections, including trichomoniasis. Condoms remain the best and most reliable protection against sexually transmitted infections. Condoms must be used consistently and correctly to be effective. Using latex condoms correctly every time you have sex will help reduce the risk of getting or spreading trichomoniasis. However, condoms don’t cover everything, and it is possible to get or spread this infection even when using a condom.
The only sure way to prevent sexually transmitted infections is to avoid having sex entirely. Another approach is to talk about these kinds of infections before you have sex with a new partner, so that you can make informed choices about the level of risk you are comfortable taking with your sex life.
If you or someone you know has questions about trichomoniasis or any other STD, especially with symptoms like unusual discharge, burning during urination, or a sore in the genital area, check in with a health care provider and get some answers.
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