What is Trichomoniasis?
Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD), also commonly known as “Trich.” It is very common and can be cured with medication. Trichomoniasis is spread by a type of tiny parasite. This one-celled protozoan, named Trichomonas vaginalis, can travel between people during sexual contact. It affects women more often than men, but anyone can get it.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) names Trichomoniasis as the most common curable STD. According to their Trichomoniasis fact sheet, the CDC estimates that 3.7 million people in the United States have this infection. However, most (70%) do not have symptoms.
How Do People Get Trichomoniasis?
Trichomoniasis is spread when the parasite Trichomoniasis vaginalis travels from one infected person to another non-infected person during sexual contact. Women are typically infected in the lower genital tract which includes the vagina, cervix, vulva, and urethra. Men are typically infected in the urethra, inside of the penis. You cannot get the infection from casual social contact such as hugging, kissing, sharing drinks, or sitting on a toilet.
Risk factors for Trichomoniasis are similar to the risk factors for other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Sex without a condom, as well as having multiple sexual partners, both increase the likelihood that you will develop Trichomoniasis. Having a history of a previous Trichomoniasis infection, or a history of any other sexually transmitted infection (STI), also puts you at higher risk for contracting the disease.
What are the Symptoms of Trichomoniasis?
Signs and symptoms of Trichomoniasis vary. Some people develop symptoms right away, within 5-28 days of being exposed. Some people never develop symptoms. And still, others may develop symptoms over time, or have symptoms that come and go. The variation in symptoms makes testing all the more important so you can reduce your risk of complications from an untreated Trichomoniasis infection.
Women with Trichomoniasis who experience symptoms most often have pain or discomfort with urination. Redness, soreness, itching, and/or a burning sensation in the genital area may also occur. Women also commonly experience a change in the discharge from their vagina. Vaginal discharge may increase in volume, change in consistency or color, and have a bad odor. Women may also notice that it becomes painful or unpleasant to have sexual intercourse.
Men with Trichomoniasis may also experience pain or discomfort during urination. A burning sensation may be felt during or after ejaculation. There may be irritation and itching inside the penis, and/or unusual discharge from the penis.
What are the Complications of Trichomoniasis?
While you may or may not have symptoms, a Trichomoniasis infection puts you at risk for other complications. Pregnant women with Trichomoniasis face specific risks to themselves and their babies. Pregnant women with trichomoniasis are more likely to give birth to their babies early. An early delivery can cause complications for the mother during labor and delivery and puts the baby at an increased risk of chronic health issues and conditions associated with premature birth. Babies of women with Trichomoniasis are also more often born at low birth weight. Finally, like other STDs, Trichomoniasis can be transmitted to your baby when the baby goes through the birth canal during delivery.
Even when undetected, Trichomoniasis increases your risk of other common sexually transmitted infections like Gonorrhea and Chlamydia. The inflammation of the genitals caused by trichomoniasis makes it easier to be infected with or to pass on the HIV virus which causes AIDS.
When Should I See a Doctor?
If you experience any of the symptoms of Trichomoniasis such as painful urination, changes in discharge from the vagina or penis, or uncomfortable burning, itching or soreness in the genital area, you should make an appointment to see your doctor.
You should also make an appointment with your healthcare provider right away if you find out that a sex partner has been diagnosed with Trichomoniasis. It’s also a good idea to be screened for Trichomoniasis and other common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) if you discover you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Regular screening is recommended for anyone with multiple sex partners, or other risk factors.
Diagnosis of Trichomoniasis
Your doctor or a healthcare provider can perform a lab test that will show if you are infected with Trichomoniasis. Your doctor may need to collect a sample of vaginal fluid for women, or urine for men. This sample is then inspected under a microscope, tested, and analyzed to see if the parasiteTrichomoniasis vaginalis is present. In the past, testing for Trichomoniasis involved growing a culture from a fluid sample. However, there are much faster tests that can detect the parasite and are commonly used today.
Treatment for Trichomoniasis
Left untreated, Trichomoniasis can last for months or even years. So it’s important to get treatment. The good news is that this common sexually transmitted disease can be cured simply by taking mediation that can be prescribed by your family doctor, a gynecologist, or an urgent care healthcare provider. Typically Trichomoniasis is treated with one of two medications: Metronidazole (Flagyl) or Tinidazole (Tindamax). Even if you are pregnant, a standard treatment is one mega-dose in the form of a pill that you swallow. The medication then works to heal the infection by eradicating the parasite in your body. However, in some cases, your doctor may recommend a lower dose round of Metronidazole—typically two smaller pills a day for one week. Be sure to read all medication information carefully and follow the instructions. Do not drink any alcohol for 24-72 hours after taking these medications. The interaction of the medication with alcohol can make you very sick, causing severe nausea and vomiting.
You should make sure that all of your sex partners are treated at the same time you are treated, even if they don’t have any symptoms. This will help to ensure that you are not reinfected after your infection has been treated. You and your partner(s) should refrain from having sex for a week after treatment. This is the length of time it takes for the infection to be cured. It’s also a good idea to be retested after 2-3 months. Since symptoms may or may not occur with infection, follow-up testing will help you be sure your Trichomoniasis is gone, and that you don’t infect anyone else.
The only way to completely ensure you don’t get Trichomoniasis is to avoid having vaginal, anal, and oral sex. If you are sexually active, there are still some important steps you can take to lower your risk of contracting Trich. Choosing one long-term monogamous sex partner who has tested negative for STDs decreases your risk of infection. You can also lower your chances of infection by practicing safe sex using a condom correctly every time. Using a condom does not remove all risks, but it does create a barrier during intercourse that helps to block the transmission of Trichomoniasis as well as other common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). And talking openly about STDs before having sex with someone can also help you avoid getting infected.
When you have a new partner, it’s a good idea for both of you to be tested and treated for potential STDs before having sex. Trichomoniasis is an STD that can bring about uncomfortable symptoms and put you at risk for other serious health complications, but it is very common and easily curable. The most important thing is to address it and get testing as well as treatment quickly.
The doctors and staff at The Woman’s Clinic are committed to providing the women of Mississippi with state-of-the-art, high-quality care in a comfortable, private, and secure setting. Contact us today to make an appointment and address all your obstetrics and gynecology healthcare needs.