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Treatment Issues for Women

November 2002

Genital Tract Infections

Your vagina, cervix, ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes are all part of your genital tract. Most genital tract infections begin in the vagina, where they're usually treated relatively easily. Many -- but not all -- of these infections are sexually transmitted, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomonas (trich), human papilloma virus (HPV), herpes, and syphilis.

If left untreated, simple vaginal infections can progress up the vagina to your cervix, where they may cause inflammation (cervicitis), cellular abnormalities (dysplasia), or both. Since these conditions are already more common in positive women, it's important to seek prompt diagnosis and treatment for any symptoms you experience. Untreated infections can also progress further up your genital tract, infecting your uterus, ovaries, or fallopian tubes. Here, they can cause pain, inflammation, and reproductive complications.

PID (pelvic inflammatory disease) is a general term that refers to inflammation somewhere in your upper genital tract. Most cases begin with easy to treat infections like chlamydia or bacterial vaginosis. Though no more common in positive women, PID can seriously threaten your health when it does occur. The best way to prevent PID is to have regular GYN exams every six months -- sooner if you experience a symptom such as: ongoing stomach and/or lower back pain; irregular periods; abnormal bleeding; cervical tenderness (during sex or on exam); painful urination; abnormal vaginal discharge; or fever.

Even when you don't have symptoms, make sure to have regular and thorough GYN exams:

  • If you're having sex, at least one of your exams a year should include a pelvic exam and a cervical swab (different from a Pap smear) for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and other common infections, and a blood test to check for syphilis.
  • A simple vaginal sample can identify yeast and bacterial levels in the vagina and can also measure your vaginal pH.
  • Pap smears only look for cervical abnormalities. If you're having problems in other parts of your genital tract, you may need a combination of blood test, cultures, pelvic exam, sonogram, colposcopy, or biopsy to diagnose the problem.
  • If you have HPV, ever had genital warts, or have had anal sex, it's important to have:
    • A Pap smear every six months -- sooner if results show abnormalities.
    • A rectal (butt) exam to check for warts in the anus.
    • An anal Pap smear to check for anal abnormalities.
  • If you've never had hepatitis A or hepatitis B, and you haven't been vaccinated against them, ask your doctor to test you to see if you should receive this simple series of shots -- they can prevent you from getting these two viruses.

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This article was provided by AIDS Community Research Initiative of America. Visit ACRIA's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
See Also
What Did You Expect While You Were Expecting?
HIV/AIDS Resource Center for Women
More on Gynecological Complications