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What Happens If You Let an STD Go Untreated: Worst Scenarios

Many people put their health at risk by neglecting to get tested for STDs. They believe that they couldn’t have acquired an STI because they are in a long-term monogamous relationship, or they think they are safe because they don’t feel any symptoms. Some delay getting tested out of shame or because they believe an STD will go away on its own.

So, what happens if you let an STD go untreated? Without timely diagnosis and treatment, STDs may lead to serious consequences and even permanent damage. A rapid STD test can protect your health.

Worst-case Scenarios for STDs Left Untreated

Nonexistent, nonspecific, or slow-onset symptoms are probably the most common reasons why STDs often go untreated for a long time. Even with an untreated STD for 3 years, many people aren’t aware that they had contracted an STI because they don’t notice visible symptoms, like vaginal discharge. Some symptoms, like muscle aches, are easy to attribute to other reasons, like periods or the flu.

Some people count on STDs going away without treatment. Unfortunately, in most cases, it won’t happen. An STD left untreated can last for years and slowly wreak havoc on your body.

Here is an overview of some common STDs and what happens if you let an STD go untreated.

Herpes

Genital herpes, caused by the HSV-2 strain of the herpes simplex virus, affects approximately one out of every six Americans aged between 14 and 49. Most herpes carriers aren’t aware of harboring the virus in their system, and the infection can remain dormant for years.

Who’s at risk?

All sexually active individuals who engage in unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex are at risk of herpes.

Worst-case scenario

Some individuals experience severe, frequent outbreaks and open sores that may lead to other infections in people with weak immune systems.

Treatment options

Herpes is incurable, but antiviral medications can shorten outbreaks, relieve symptoms, and reduce infectiousness.

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea, often paired with chlamydia, can pass through genital contact or direct contact with body orifices like the mouth and eyes.

Who’s at risk?

People who have unprotected sex or share sex toys without proper disinfection run the risk of contracting gonorrhea.

Worst-case scenario

If a pregnant woman has gonorrhea, her newborn may suffer from blindness or a blood infection. Untreated gonorrhea increases the risk of contracting HIV. Gonorrhea may also cause reproductive system scarring, increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage, and lead to infertility in men and women.

Treatment options

Gonorrhea responds well to antibiotic treatment, although some strains show antibiotic resistance.

Chlamydia

An extremely common STD, chlamydia affects over 1.5 million people in the United States each year. Approximately 50% to 70% of the infected individuals exhibit no symptoms and have no idea they are spreading the infection to their sexual partners.

Who’s at risk?

Individuals who engage in sexual intercourse without a condom are at risk of chlamydia.

Worst-case scenario

Untreated chlamydia in women may lead to PID (pelvic inflammatory disease), severe pelvic pain, vaginal infection, infertility, miscarriages, and preterm labor. In men, chlamydia could cause urethritis and infertility. Chlamydia carriers are also at a higher risk of contracting HIV.

Treatment options

Chlamydia usually clears away completely with a proper course of antibiotics.

Syphilis

Once deadly, syphilis is now easy enough to cure if diagnosed early. However, because of its prolonged symptomless period, syphilis often progresses to an advanced stage and can lead to life-threatening consequences.

Who’s at risk?

Young adults, pregnant women, people with multiple sex partners, and anyone who does not practice safe sex run the risk of catching syphilis.

Worst-case scenario

Without timely treatment, syphilis may lead to widespread inflammation, internal bleeding, liver enlargement, deformations, loss of motor and cognitive functions, and even death.

Treatment options

Penicillin is the recommended medication for syphilis at all stages. Patients who are allergic to penicillin may receive other antibiotics.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is the most violent of all hepatitis types. This dangerous disease spreads by contact with infected blood, for example by sharing needles and syringes. Mothers can also pass hepatitis C to their babies at birth.

The risk of catching hepatitis C via sexual contact is comparatively low but may increase in anal sex and sex during menstruation. Immunocompromised people (like HIV carriers) are also more likely to contract hepatitis C through their sexual partners.

Who’s at risk?

Those at risk include people with HIV and individuals who engage in unprotected sex, especially anal sex, with multiple partners.

Worst-case scenario

Without timely diagnosis and treatment, hepatitis C may lead to cirrhosis, liver failure, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure, hypertension, and death.

Treatment options

Hepatitis C usually responds well to direct-acting antiviral tablets.

HIV

HIV used to be a death sentence. Today, with advanced therapy, the prognosis for carriers is much brighter, but HIV remains a serious concern since it can remain asymptomatic for years while putting the carrier and their partners at risk.

Who’s at risk?

People who have unprotected sex, especially while suffering from other STDs, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, are at risk.

Worst-case scenario

Untreated HIV ultimately causes AIDS and immune system failure. People with HIV are at an increased risk for liver and kidney diseases, stroke, osteoporosis, cancer, and early death.

Treatment options

While HIV is incurable, antiretroviral therapy can help carriers live long, healthy lives.

HPV

Over 150 virus strains can cause human papillomavirus (HPV). Some HPV strains are relatively benign, but others may lead to serious long-term consequences, namely several types of cancer. Condoms offer some protection from HPV, yet the virus can also spread through skin-to-skin contact.

The CDC recommends the HPV vaccine for children starting at the age of 11-12, for teens, and for young adults up to 26 years of age.

Who’s at risk?

Teens and young adults under 25 who engage in unprotected sex and who haven’t received the HPV vaccine are at risk of contracting HPV.

Worst-case scenario

HPV may lead to oral and penile cancer in men and to cervical, vulvar, and vaginal cancer in women. HPV may also cause anal and oropharyngeal cancer in both sexes.

Treatment options

HPV is incurable, but most infections clear on their own within two years. Other consequences, like genital warts and cancer, call for targeted treatment.

Here is the bottom line: what happens if you let an STD go untreated depends on the specific STD. To protect your health, Rapid STD Testing offers fast, discreet, and accurate diagnosis and treatment recommendations.

Summary of Consequences for Untreated STDs

Without exception, STDs are far easier to cure completely or keep under control with a quick, accurate diagnosis and proper treatment. In contrast, untreated STDs can seriously endanger the health of carriers and their sexual partners.

Here are some possible consequences of untreated STDs.

Infertility

Some STDs, namely gonorrhea and chlamydia, may lead to PID, scarring of the reproductive tract, and infertility. Men may also suffer from urethral scarring and infertility following untreated STDs.

Some couples only discover that one or both of the partners carry STDs when they visit a fertility clinic after failing to conceive naturally. All men and women who plan to start a family at any point in the future should get tested for STDs.

Complications

With an STD untreated for years, carriers may suffer a host of risky complications, including inflammation, internal organ damage, cancer, and a higher risk of HIV. Timely diagnosis can prevent many of these devastating health consequences.

Unsafe pregnancy

STDs pose a significant risk for pregnant women and unborn babies. STDs may lead to grave outcomes like ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, and preterm birth. Babies of mothers with STDs may contract the infection during pregnancy or at birth and suffer a higher risk of various complications, such as low birth weight and developmental issues.

Spreading to others

Many people believe they can safely engage in unprotected sex because they experience no STD symptoms. Imagine what it feels like to know that you have unintentionally passed an STI to a sex partner, putting their health at risk. For immunocompromised people, even easily curable STIs could be extremely dangerous.

Getting tested for STDs is simple, fast, discreet, reliable, and safe. It is the responsible thing to do to protect yourself and others. All sexually active individuals should get an STD test at least once a year.

We hope that this overview helped answer the question of what happens if you let an STD go untreated. A final word of caution: under some conditions, STD tests may come back with a false-negative result. If you’re looking up “negative STD but still worried,” contact Rapid STD Testing, a network of fast, confidential STD testing clinics with labs across the country.

Don’t Let STDs Go Untreated: Get Tested Today

If you suspect you may have an STD or if you haven’t tested for STDs in a long time, a quick and effective 10-panel STD test can put your mind at ease. Instead of waiting to find out what happens if you let an STD go untreated, contact us to find out more about same-day STD testing.