Sexual Health Week 2018: GUM clinics, STI tests, symptoms and warning signs as explained by Doctors

Georgia Chambers
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Our sexual health is an important but often neglected part of our overall well-being.

According to Public Health England, a record 3.3 million visits were made to sexual health clinics in England last year. Whilst overall rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) remained stable in 2017, cases of syphilis have increased by 20% since 2016.

The highest rates of diagnoses continue to be seen in 16 to 24-year-olds, but STIs are not solely limited to this age group. Dr Rashid Bani BSc (Hons), MBBS, DRCOG, Medical Director of Your Sexual Health says the last 20 years has seen a "huge rise" in the number of over 40s being diagnosed with STIs.

Whatever your age, sexual health screenings are crucial for detecting sexually transmitted infections and diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis.

Find the answers to some of your most asked about sexual health questions below:

Why is sexual health important?

Maintaining good sexual health is important as it prevents illnesses that could not only result in painful symptoms but also potentially spread to your partner.

Dr Bani advises that you should seek medical advice if:

1.) You've had unprotected sex with a new partner recently

2.) You've been told by a partner that you may be at risk of infection

What's the difference between an STI and an STD?

Whilst the two can be used interchangeably, experts now tend to replace the term 'STD' with 'STI.'

"The reason behind this is due to the fact that people who become infected don't always experience symptoms or have their infection develop into a disease," explains Dr Bani.

"That's why testing for STIs is recommended if you are at risk whether you feel unwell or not."

What are some common STIs/STDs?

Common STIs/STDs include chlamydia, gonorrhoea, genital warts, genital herpes, syphilis.

However, you might also need to be checked for hepatitis B and C, and HIV.

What symptoms should I look out for?

Symptoms are varied and sometimes you may experience no symptoms at all.

There are some common symptoms you should be aware of, though.

Dr Belinda Griffiths MBBS. DRCOG. FSRH is a GP at London's Fleet Street Clinic and said symptoms can include: "pain on the passing of urine, discharge from the vagina or penis, lower abdominal pain, bleeding between periods or after sexual intercourse."

She added that an infected individual may also experience "ulcers, itching, rashes, lumps and bumps and not to mention symptoms affecting areas other than the genitals."

How often should I get an STI/STD check?

If you've had unprotected sex with someone who you don't know, or you've had unprotected sex with someone whom you think may have an STD, then you should get tested.

"How regularly depends on numerous factors," says Dr Griffiths, "these can include your number of partners, partners' sexual habits, use of (or failure to use) condoms, intravenous drug use and sexual encounters abroad, or where treatment is not easily obtained."

Which STIs/STDs are curable?

"Bacterial STDs such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis can be cured with antibiotics if treatment begins early enough," explains Dr Bani.

Viral STIs however, cannot be cured. These include genital herpes, human papilloma virus (HPV), hepatitis B and C, and HIV.

What does STD testing involve?

When you visit your local clinic, testing will usually involve giving a urine and/or blood sample. Occasionally, a swab test is required.

Your samples are then sent to a lab for testing and you will receive your results.

Treatment or follow-on care may be given if required.

How do I find a sexual health clinic?

You can use the NHS sexual health services finder to find a free clinic near you.

Alternatively, you can order a free STI testing kit to do at home here.

Private services are also a quick and efficient option when it comes to accessing STI services. You can find a private sexual health clinic near you here.