STD basics

STD complications

What if an STD is untreated?

Most people aren't aware that complications from untreated STDs can include everything from infertility and upper genital tract infections to heart disease, certain cancers, HIV and many other diseases and abnormalities...even death.

For example, untreated syphilis can damage the internal organs and neurological system, and untreated gonorrhea and chlamydia infections can spread throughout the body and cause infertility. STDs can also be seriously harmful to pregnant women and their babies.

So, if you're sexually active, it's in your best interest to get tested annually...or, if you have multiple sexual partners, get tested every six months. Know what other STD risk factors may also apply to you — from men who have sex with men (MSM) to substance abuse and various social determinants. The better informed you are, the better you can protect yourself and others from the potentially debilitating effects of STDs.

Last reviewed by Lisa Oldson, MD, January 2011.

Lisa Oldson, MD

STD expert

"The first thing I tell a patient about STDs is that if you're worried about one STD, you should probably worry about all STDs. In other words, if you had unprotected sex and you're worried about a possible HIV exposure, it's important to understand that hepatitis can be spread in the same fashion...ditto for chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes and syphilis."