Can a Treated STD Come Back?

You may be familiar with some of the more common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis can all be treated, and often cured, with antibiotics.

It's important that you find treatment for your STD if you think or know you have one. It's also important to know that having your STD treated is not a guarantee that it will never come back.

This article explains why an STD can return, why taking the wrong medication can hurt you, and the risk of reinfection if you are not careful about safe sex practices.

common reason for STD recurrence
Verywell / Cindy Chung

Taking the Incorrect Medication

Keep in mind that your treatment can fail if you're taking the wrong medication. One reason this may happen is called syndromatic treatment. This is sometimes done in STD clinics when there is concern over the cost of tests or that a person might not come back for the results.

It means that you're being treated for general symptoms without getting a diagnosis and treatment for a specific STD. This may create a problem because not all STDs are caused by the same infection.

Treating your STD with a medication you've used in the past or one prescribed for your partner or a friend is also problematic: It could be an ineffective drug for your current condition.

Not all STDs are caused by the same pathogens (infectious organisms). Different illnesses require different treatments.

It's important for your healthcare provider to correctly identify what's causing your infection. This way, you'll be sure to get the appropriate treatment instead of just taking an antibiotic and hoping it works.

Taking Medication Incorrectly

If you are prescribed a specific antibiotic by your healthcare provider, it's important that you complete the treatment as directed. That's true even if you feel better before you're done taking all the prescribed medication.

Failing to finish a course of antibiotics might keep your STD from being cured. It might also make it far more difficult to treat your STD in the future due to antibiotic resistance. This occurs when an antibiotic drug is no longer able to fight germs that have built up an immunity against it.

Your Partner Didn't Get Treated

If you have a consistent sexual partner, it's important to tell them about your infection. They likely will need to get treated too.

Once you've both gotten treated, you have to wait until the treatment has had time to work before you start having sex again. This is especially true of unprotected sex.

You want to avoid passing the STD back and forth between the two of you. Without taking these important steps, it's possible for this to happen. Such a cycle would prolong the STD and its symptoms.

Being Exposed to Another STD

Treatment for chlamydia, gonorrhea, or another STD may be successful, but it does not protect you from other STDs in the future.

In fact, many people become infected with STDs over and over again. This is because they have unprotected sex with partners who have untreated STDs.

STD-Specific Concerns

Certain STDs come with specific problems that can make them more likely to return. If you've been diagnosed with any of these, it's important to keep the following in mind.

Chlamydia

A significant number of people who have been diagnosed with and treated for chlamydia will get the infection again after treatment. This can be due to repeated exposure.

Research in animals doesn't always accurately predict what will happen in humans. However, a study using animal models suggests that chlamydia may be able to hide out in the gut and reemerge later on. This could be another reason why chlamydia can come back after treatment. 

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is treatable with antibiotics, but antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea has emerged as a growing public health crisis.

Your healthcare provider may need to have your infection tested to determine the best way to treat it. You also may need to come back after treatment to see if it worked.

Over time, it has become harder to find affordable antibiotics that are consistent and effective when treating gonorrhea. As a result, people seeking treatment may need to use more expensive antibiotics.

Syphilis

As with the other bacterial STDs, syphilis can be treated effectively. Still, there are a number of factors that have been shown to affect how well the treatment works. These include:

  • The stage of your syphilis infection
  • How often you use condoms
  • Whether or not you have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

In general, treatment for syphilis is effective if the infection is caught early. Success also is more likely if you have a healthy immune system.

Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is the most common curable STD around the world. That said, with the standard single-dose treatment, repeat infections still occur rather often.

Research shows that multidose treatments for trichomoniasis reduce the risk of these recurrences by about half. Multidose treatment is now standard for trichomoniasis in women with HIV. However, it is available for HIV-negative women as well. 

Another issue with trichomoniasis is that men are generally not tested. Since they are not tested, they are not usually treated. It's true that infections are generally less serious in men, but they do need to be treated so that they don't reinfect their partners.

If you've been treated for an STD and don't want to get another infection, the best step that you can take is to change your behaviors to decrease your risk. That means consistently practicing safe sex and always talking to new partners about STD risk before having sex.

Summary

Many STDs, including gonorrhea and syphilis, can be treated with antibiotics. But STDs can return for several reasons. You may not have taken the right antibiotic for the specific STD you have, or you may have taken the right drug but didn't complete the treatment as prescribed.

It's also possible that the STD is passed back to you by an untreated partner. In some cases, an STD like gonorrhea may become resistant to antibiotic treatment. Be sure to work closely with a healthcare provider to ensure that your STD is properly treated, and the risk of its return is reduced.

A Word From Verywell

Fortunately, most STDs that can be cured with antibiotics are also preventable if you practice safe sex.

Condoms, dental dams, and other barriers are an effective way to prevent bacterial STDs. However, it's important to be consistent and use them for all vaginal, anal, and oral intercourse. STDs aren't necessarily transmitted every time you have sex but you should always practice prevention. It's never too late to start being safe.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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