Tricky trichomonas

Dear Alice,

I ended a relationship about a year ago. I have always seemed to have a yeast infection when I went to doctors before. In my relationship I had went to the doctors before because of discharge and just told them I didn’t need to really be looked at because I know what it is. Well at the end of my relationship I went to the doctor to get a whole check-up. Come to find out that what I thought was a yeast infection turned out to be trichomoniasis. I think I have had it for a couple of years now. I have gone to be treated for it two times. Each time it would go away and then come back. I was wondering if it was because I had it for such a long time?


Dear Scared,

It might seem like a trichomoniasis infection is trying to trick you into more visits to the health care provider. Your story is helpful though, in that it illustrates how critical it is to have a yeast infection (or any unusual change below the belt) diagnosed — you might learn that it's not a yeast infection at all. Trichomonas vaginalis, or trich, is a small organism (one-celled) that causes an infection called trichomoniasis. It's most commonly transmitted through sexual contact, but it can be picked up non-sexually, too: warm, moist environments, like hot tubs or shared baths, can sometimes host and possibly, though rarely, transmit the organism. It's also true that the symptoms of trich can resemble a yeast infection. The good news is trichomoniasis is more annoying than it is threatening to your health and is typically treated with a single dose of antibiotics. That said, it may also put your mind at ease to know that your experience with reinfection isn't unheard of; it’s also possible for trich to linger for months or even years without appropriate treatment.

Being properly diagnosed and treated is crucial to ridding the infection from your body. As you may have learned from a more comprehensive health check-up, trich isn’t something that can be diagnosed by symptoms alone. Symptoms may include itching, burning, and discharge from the genitals (i.e., penis or vagina), pain during or after ejaculation, and discomfort while urinating. There may also be an atypical fishy smell with vaginal discharge and sex for anyone with trich may also be uncomfortable. Because of the similarity of symptoms to other infections, including vaginal yeast infections, a visit to a clinic or medical office is warranted because a lab test is necessary to confirm a trich diagnosis.

As far as getting rid of the infection, prescription medication is commonly prescribed. To reduce the risk of adverse effects, your health care provider may have already advised you to avoid alcohol for up to 24 hours after taking the medication to treat trich (drinking alcohol with the meds may result in some severe side effects when used with alcohol, including nausea, stomach pain, and vomiting). Additionally, to reduce the likelihood of reinfection, it's good to make sure that any sexual partners you've had recently are also treated, even if they don't currently have symptoms (about 70 percent of those infected have no symptoms). Waiting seven to ten days to have sex once all partners have been treated is also recommended. It’s worth noting that even with treatment — reinfection is still possible; about one in five folks will become reinfected within three months of undergoing treatment. If this happens, making another appointment with a health care provider is advised.

In addition to taking medication and getting proper treatment, your provider may recommend being tested for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and any other screenings that may be appropriate (which may include a Pap test if indicated). Moreover, getting tested on a regular basis may also help you know your status sooner, so that you can get appropriate treatment and relief more quickly. Lastly, to prevent reinfection in the future, using barriers correctly and consistently during sex, such as external/internal condoms or dams, are your best bet.

Wishing you an end to the infections and a full recovery soon,

Last updated Jun 09, 2017
Originally published May 29, 1998

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