Trichomoniasis: What It Is, Causes & Symptoms

Amanda Olson - DPT
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Amanda Olson, DPT, PRPC

Trichomoniasis is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the world. Caused by a parasite, most people experience little to no symptoms and pass on this infection unknowingly during unprotected sex. Read on to learn more about trichomoniasis, what it is, causes, and symptoms, as well as treatment. 

What is Trichomoniasis & How Do You Get It? 

Trichomoniasis, which is also referred to as trich, is caused by a parasite known as Trichomonas Vaginalisas (TV). The infection is more common in women than in men with over one million American women diagnosed between the ages of 14 and 49 each year, according to the American Sexual Health Association.  

An important misconception about this STI is that trich is not contracted by having several sexual partners. It can just as easily be passed on from one partner who is unaware of having the condition and not showing any symptoms. 

Trich cannot be passed on through oral or anal sex, neither can it be contracted from kissing, hugging, sharing the same cutlery, or from toilet seats. Trich is contracted from having sex without a condom, or by sharing sex toys that have not been cleaned between use. 

The Most Common Trichomoniasis Symptoms

As previously mentioned, a lot of people show no symptoms and are completely unaware that they have trich. According to CDC reports, for example, 85% of infected women showed no symptoms and did not know they had the infection until randomly tested.  

When patients do experience symptoms, however, they will usually feel them beginning between 5 and 28 days after infection. For other patients, symptoms might not present for months, maybe even years. 

The most common trich symptoms for women include vaginal spotting or light bleeding, vaginal itching, redness, or swelling, as well as a frequent need to urinate and a possible burning feeling when peeing. Vaginal discharge can also change to a milky white color, grey, yellow, or green accompanied by an unpleasant odor.    

The most common trich symptoms for men include a discharge from the urethra, a frequent urge to urinate, as well as a burning feeling while peeing and sometimes after ejaculation.  

Diagnosing Trichomoniasis  

Because trichomoniasis symptoms never appear in some people, and other STIs can also result in similar symptoms, it can be difficult to diagnose solely based on symptoms. Therefore, if you suspect you may have contracted trich, it is essential to schedule an appointment with your doctor where they will conduct a physical exam and lab tests.  

Tests include antigen tests for antibodies that confirm the presence of the TV parasite in the body. Cell cultures may also be swabbed to confirm trichomoniasis DNA, as well as examining vaginal discharge and urine samples under a microscope. 

How is Trichomoniasis Treated?

Without treatment, trich will not go away by itself. Once trich has been diagnosed, however, your doctor will prescribe a 5-7 day course of antibiotics to cure it. In addition, it is recommended that patients refrain from consuming alcohol as well as participating in any sexual activity for at least a week, or until the course of antibiotics is completed.

Along with your treatment, your sexual partner(s) must be tested and treated too, otherwise, you could catch trich again from the same partner. As mentioned above, many people don’t experience trich symptoms but that doesn’t mean they don’t have it. Once your partner(s) have been treated, they too should refrain from sexual activity for at least a week, and inform their other partners.  

If your symptoms continue after the course of antibiotics is completed, speak with your doctor. It is also recommended to schedule a follow-up exam three months after treatment to ensure TV or trichomoniasis DNA is no longer present in the body. 

How to Prevent Trichomoniasis

To prevent contracting trichomoniasis, use a condom with all sexual partners (or a dam if both partners are women). In addition, protect any penetrative sex toys with a condom during use, and thoroughly clean all sex toys after use. 

Risks & Complications Associated with Trichomoniasis

In certain people, contracting trichomoniasis can make it easier for them to become infected with other sexually transmitted infections at the same time, like gonorrhea, chlamydia, or bacterial vaginosis. The genital swelling associated with trich can also increase your risk of not only contracting HIV but passing it on to others too.

An untreated case of trich can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women, resulting in infertility, intense pelvic pain, and fallopian tube blockages for some. 

If pregnant, trich has been known to trigger premature delivery and in rare cases, the infection can be contracted by the baby during delivery.  Should you experience any symptoms while pregnant, consult with your doctor immediately to avoid any complications. 

Conclusion

If you are sexually active, with men or with women, the best way to diagnose and treat trichomoniasis infections is to schedule regular sexual health check-ups with your doctor. In between check-ups, always practice safe sex and clean sex toys after each use to prevent infection from sexual partners. 

References

Healthline – Everything You Need to Know About Sexually Transmitted Diseases - https://www.healthline.com/health/sexually-transmitted-diseases

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention – Trichomonasias CDC Fact Sheet

https://www.cdc.gov/std/trichomonas/stdfact-trichomoniasis.htm

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention – Trichomonasias Statistics -   https://www.cdc.gov/std/trichomonas/stats.htm

National Center for Biotechnology Information - Treatment of trichomoniasis in pregnancy and preterm birth: an observational study - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19361316/

An Overview From Amanda & Aaron

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