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The following list of STDs will provide you with information on the different types of sexually transmitted diseases and infections as well as the main symptoms for each of them. STDs (or STIs) are infections that can only (or mostly) be passed on to another person when having sex, be it anal, oral or vaginal sex. There are different types of STDs, from very benign to malignant and harmful ones.
If you worry you may have been infected, our sexual health clinic offers home STI test kits for different kinds of infections as well as STI treatments (for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, genital herpes and genital warts) – delivered to your door by our partner pharmacy.
The most common types of STDs in the UK include chlamydia, genital warts, genital herpes, gonorrhoea, (among the treatable ones), but also hepatitis B&C, syphilis and HIV (among the incurable and/or very severe ones).
Then there are also various other STD infections of the urinary tract and the genitals which can cause annoying symptoms but are easy to cure. The sooner your infection is diagnosed, the better are your chances of getting it treated and cured.
Chlamydia is the most common STD in the UK. It is also easily curable - chlamydia treatment usually consists of a single dose antibiotic. About 50% of men and 70% of women don’t have any symptoms for years (if at all).
When symptoms appear, people often suffer from abnormal vaginal discharge and vaginal bleeding, discharge from the tip of the penis and pain when peeing or during sex.
When left untreated, chlamydia can lead to infertility in women and men. When you’re infected with chlamydia, other STDs may also be present.
Gonorrhoea is often caught alongside chlamydia. About 1 in 3 women infected with gonorrhoea also has chlamydia. The bacteria that cause gonorrhoea need to be inside the human body to survive. For this reason, you can only catch it through sexual activity (and not through contact with objects/swimming etc).
The symptoms of gonorrhoea include the same irregular discharge as the one caused by chlamydia (from the vagina or penis). As with chlamydia, many infected patients won’t develop any symptoms even though the infection can cause damage to women’s reproductive system in the long run.
Men, however, sometimes suffer from infections of the urinary tract and associated symptoms when infected with chlamydia: painful urination and discharge from the penis. If untreated, the bacteria can spread to the rest of the body, often infecting the skin or muscle joints.
Gonorrhea treatment normally involves a course of the antibiotic cefixime.
Over 80% of people who are infected with genital herpes, don’t know they have the virus. Most of them will never find out - it’s quite common for patients to live a lifetime without knowing about their infection or suffering from any symptoms.
However, they can pass the virus to another partner who can then develop symptoms. Asymptomatic patients tend not to use protection (condoms) every time they have sex, unlike patients who know they have herpes.
Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus. The symptoms are soreness of the infected area and/or painful blisters around the genitals. Most people are able to recognise recurrent episodes due to the itching and tingling sensation in the genitals that they feel a few hours before the blisters appear. This is the best time to start an antiviral treatment, right before the virus starts producing genital herpes blisters.
In general, the first herpes outbreak is the most severe one and lasts much longer than any episode that follows – up to 2-3 weeks. Over time, outbreaks of genital herpes tend to get milder.
Genital warts (also known as anogenital warts) are located in or around the anus and genital area. They’re caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) which often doesn’t cause any symptoms at all, and sometimes shows only years after infection.
Genital warts appear as little bumps that sometime form clusters with a cauliflower shape. Since they come in different sizes treatment ranges from antiviral creams (e.g. Warticon) to surgery (e.g. laser, cryosurgery).
While they are not dangerous, they are easily transmitted and require immediate treatment. As far as symptoms go, genital warts are sometimes itchy and in rare cases they can be painful. Women can suffer from irregular vaginal bleeding or discharge.
Syphilis is one of the oldest infections on this list of STDs. While, nowadays, syphilis is fairly easy to treat with antibiotics, if left untreated the infection can cause severe symptoms (e.g. contagious ulcers on the genitals, anus and mouth; then infection of the brain, eyes or ears) and is potentially life-threatening.
In the early stages, like many types of STDs, the symptoms of syphilis are hard to recognise and it can take several months before they appear. However, as soon as the bacteria enter your body, the illness progresses – in three stages – with the symptoms getting worse at each stage.
As for hepatitis B, it is a virus that attacks the liver (like hepatitis C) and is passed through sexual contact and blood (e.g. via needles). The symptoms of hepatitis B start with a short acute infection to which everyone responds differently: a few will develop chronic hepatitis B and others will develop liver severe dysfunction.
The majority of people actually develop their own antibodies against the virus and are protected from further infections. Yet, 5 in 100 people who are infected will suffer from serious consequences from the virus.
Note that hepatitis A and C can also be passed on through sexual activity but it remains quite rare, so we won’t include them in this list of STDs. If you have had unprotected sex you may need to go to a GUM clinic and get tested for hepatitis.
Finally, HIV is the last item on this list of the different STD infections. It is caused by a virus that attacks your immune system. Basically you don’t die from HIV, but from any benign infection that your body can’t cope with. This is the final stage where HIV results in your body to suffer from AIDS – the Acquired Immunodeficiency Symptom (i.e. your immune system is down).
Like Hepatitis B, HIV can be transmitted through blood exchange (for example sharing needles) or sex. It can also be transmitted to the new-born by a pregnant woman. And like Hepatitis B and other types of STDs, the first symptoms are difficult to recognise as they can feel like the flu (with muscle pain, sore throat), sometimes in combination with vomiting and diarrhoea.
This fever tends to develop within 2-4 weeks after the virus has entered the body, but it can sometimes take several months. Most patients will only suffer from AIDS about 10 years later as they start losing weight and suffer from uncommon infections and cancers.
There is no cure or vaccine for HIV at the moment, but early treatment considerably slows down the spread of the virus in infected patients. There are over 8,000 HIV-positive people in the UK, and an estimated 30% of them are not aware of their condition.
There are many infections that are often misunderstood as STDs, such as urethritis, which is simply an infection of the urethra (part of the urinary tract).
Pubic lice (crabs) is another example, which is neither an infection nor a disease but just tiny bugs (lice) that settle in your pubic hair to lay their eggs and reproduce. They are transmitted during intimate contact between two pubic areas.
Many people don’t have any symptoms, but some do suffer from itchy genitals and inflammation. You can only get rid of them with special treatment for lice (shampoos, lotions & creams).
Trichomonas is a germ causing a benign infection known as trichomoniasis. It’s a treatable infection which is cured with a simple course of antibiotics. The symptoms it causes are common STD symptoms, namely an abnormal discharge from the genitals and pain when urinating or when having sex.
There is also a whole range of infections that are sometimes considered to be STDs, but they are not strictly speaking STDs. Although they are sometimes transmitted during sex they may be genital infections that are aggravated by sexual activity.
These STD infections are easily curable and include:
The advantage of broad spectrum antibiotics such as azithromycin is that while they’re specifically prescribed for certain types of STDs (e.g. chlamydia), they can also be used to treat other STD-related infections (e.g. chancroid). By getting tested and treated, you can sometimes cure many types of STDs at the same time.
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