Trichomoniasis is a parasitic sexually transmitted infection caused by a microscopic parasitic organism called Trichomonas vaginalis (often abbreviated to simply TV). This condition is characterised by a number of symptoms which can often be mistaken for bacterial vaginosis (in women). These include:
- Presence of abnormal vaginal discharge (changes in colour, consistency or smell)
- Pain, inflammation or irritation of the vagina
- Painful urination
- Penile discharge
The parasite causing the infection is transmitted through unprotected sex, including the unsafe sharing of sex toys.
What’s on this page?
How common is trichomonas vaginalis?
While this condition is not as common as some other, mostly bacterial STIs, it still affects roughly 6000 people every year within the UK alone. Aside from causing unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms, TV can also significantly increase the susceptibility to other, maybe even more dangerous STIs such as HIV.
Trichomonas vaginalis treatment
This condition is commonly treated in a manner similar to that which is used to mitigate bacterial STIs, namely, the use of antibiotic medicine. Undoubtedly the most commonly prescribed treatments are antibiotics based on metronidazole, belonging to a class of pharmaceutical compounds called nitromidazole antibiotics. Medicines of this type are usually prescribed as two-dose-per-day treatments over the course of five to seven days.
Metronidazole, the active ingredient of all the most efficient and successful TV treatments kills the parasites by directly compromising its DNA structure. More specifically, trichomonas vaginalis requires certain nucleic acid to kick-start a complex chain of biochemical cellular processes that result in preservation of DNA structure. Metronidazole inhibits the function of that nucleic acid, causing the parasite to cease functioning and die.
Do I have trichomonas vaginalis?
If you have any reason to suspect you might have been exposed to TV, you should undergo a STI test as soon as possible. This can be achieved in several ways – you can either visit your doctor and ask him for advice or go directly to your local STI or GUM clinic and get tested there. However, if you would prefer to avoid face-to-face contact altogether – something most of those struggling with STIs would prefer – than you can buy an at-home STI testing kit. If you test positive, you can then use the test results to obtain a prescription.
Again, this can be accomplished in several ways – through your general practitioner, a GUM clinic or through an online clinic. If you choose to buy your TV treatment online, you will be asked to fill in a customized online questionnaire which the doctor will then use in order to assess your condition (in accordance with the test results) and decide whether your preferred treatment can be safely used.
Types of TV treatment
Trichomonas vaginalis is a condition that cannot be combated by the immune system alone, so additional management is necessary. The most commonly prescribed and certainly the most successful method of TV treatment is antibiotic medicine, usually based on metronidazole. Similarly to other general use antibiotics, metronidazole will compromise the ability of the infection to sustain itself – both bacteria and parasites tend to produce different chemicals which are crucial for their sustenance and cellular integrity and antibiotics curb exactly these processes.
When it comes to Trichomonasis vaginalis specifically, the active ingredient of commonly prescribed antibiotics, metronidazole, will restrict the activity of a specific nucleic acid, thus preventing the parasite from maintaining the structural integrity of its DNA chain. This permanent damage will cause the parasite to stop functioning and soon after die.
Are there any side effects?
Metronidazole is rather safe to use, but certain side effects have been documented, including:
Additional information on possible side effects can be found in the patient information leaflet issued with every pack of medicine.
Can I use metronidazole with other medications?
The doctor will be the one who will give a final word on this one. Naturally, the exact answer will depend on the type of medicines you might be using. Metronidazole has been known to adversely interact with lithium and anti-coagulants.
Can you have TV without knowing it?
Yes – in fact, this condition can remain completely asymptomatic in up to 50% of those affected. However, if symptoms do manifest, they tend to be rather gender specific.
Women affected can notice:
- Irregular vaginal discharge (changes in consistency, colour or smell)
- Pain and inflammation around the vagina
- Itching in the upper thighs
- Painful urination
- Painful sexual intercourse
Males experience the following symptoms:
- Infection of the urethra
- Infection of the foreskin
- Inflammation of the prostate gland
- Painful urination
- Painful ejaculation
- Frequent urination
- Thin white discharge and soreness around the head of the penis (balanitis)