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Alexa Englehart

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About Author — Alexa currently lives in sunny San Diego, California. When not writing, she enjoys running, hiking, swimming, horseback riding, and reading.

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How to Get Tested for STDs

Sexually transmitted diseases affect a surprisingly large number of people throughout the United States. The CDC estimates that there are over 110 million total cases of sexually transmitted infections, new and pre-existing, across the United States. Some reports suggest that at least half of all sexually active people will contract a sexually transmitted infection at some point in life.

Why are there so many infections? Part of it is misinformation and shame from how people talk about STDs. Part of it comes from the fact that STDs don’t always show obvious symptoms.

Many symptoms that do occur in men and women are often easily mistaken for other illnesses. However, when left untreated, sexually transmitted diseases can have a serious impact on your health. They can cause:

  • Blindness
  • Cancer
  • Infertility
  • Organ failure

The best thing you can do to if you think you may have an STD is to get tested. How do you get tested for STDs? Here’s a guide to help you through the process of getting tested for STDs.

When to Get Tested

You should generally get tested if you have been sexually active, but you should more specifically get tested if:

  • You have a new partner
  • You have multiple partners
  • Your current partner has cheated on you
  • You and your current partner are considering not using condoms
  • You show any symptoms that might point to a sexually transmitted infection

How to Get Tested for STDs

Step One: Obtain a Lab Requisition

Wondering where to get tested for STDs? You should be able to get tested at your primary care physician’s office or at any health clinic. You can also order an STD test online. It’s all a matter of personal preference. The lab requisition consists of ordering the test and knowing what samples are required for the test.

Note that there are several infections that are considered notifiable diseases, meaning your doctor is legally required to report positive results to the government. The government uses this information to inform public health initiatives, track patterns, and help to develop better methods of treating and handling sexually transmitted diseases. Notifiable sexually transmitted infections include:

Step Two: Examinations and Taking Samples

Depending on your sexual history and your personal needs, the doctor may order a variety of tests and examinations to diagnose the problem. The most common testing procedures include:

Physical examinations: Herpes, genital warts (HPV), and other infections can be diagnosed with a simple physical examination during which your doctor will check for sores, blisters, bumps, and other irregularities that might point to a sexually transmitted infection. From there, they may also take samples to conduct further tests.

Blood and urine tests: Blood and urine tests tend to be the most common tests for a wide range of STDs, including:

  • HIV
  • Gonorrhea
  • Chlamydia
  • Syphilis
  • Herpes
  • Hepatitis

Blood can either come from a finger prick or drawn from the arm, while urine tests involve simply peeing into a cup. Depending on the STD, these tests might not be as accurate as other methods of testing. In some cases, it could take over a month after infection for blood tests to be reliable.

Swabs: This includes cervical, vaginal, and urethral swabs as well as swabs of the inside of the mouth. For women, doctors can swab the vagina or cervix using a cotton applicator during a pelvic exam. Men and women can get urethral swabs, which involves inserting a cotton applicator into the urethra. If you have anal sex, your doctor may also take a swab from your rectum to check for any potential infectious bacteria or viruses.

Pap smears and HPV tests: Papanicolau smears aren’t specifically for sexually transmitted infections. They are generally administered to detect signs of possible anal or cervical cancer. They don’t actually tell you if you have a sexually transmitted disease, but if your Pap smear shows abnormal results, your doctor will recommend a follow-up HPV test.

However, it should be noted that abnormal Pap smears do not immediately point to STDs or cancer. Many abnormal results resolve on their own without even needing treatment.

Now that you know the main tests involved, here’s a quick rundown of some sexually transmitted diseases and the types of tests you might receive for them.

1) HIV/AIDS

  • Blood test
  • Oral swab using a special tool to test cells inside your mouth
  • Urine test (though this is rare)
  • Note: Many clinics offer confidential and anonymous testing options
    2) Bacterial vaginosis
  • Pelvic exam
  • Vaginal discharge test
    3) Chlamydia
  • Physical exam
  • Urine test
  • Swab of the genital area
  • Test of vaginal, anal, or urethral discharge
  • A test of cell samples taken from the penis, vagina, anus, or cervix
    4) Gonorrhea
  • Urine test
  • Swab of genital area
  • Cell sample test taken from throat, penis, anus, or cervix
  • Test of discharge taken from vagina, anus, or urethra
  • Note: For both gonorrhea and chlamydia, tell your doctor if you engage in anal sex. Swabs and tests taken from your genitals may not show any positive results but you may still have an infection in your rectal area.
    5) Genital warts (HPV)
  • Visual examination (Most warts can be seen by the naked eye with a pelvic exam, though your doctor may use a colposcope, which can detect warts too small to see.)
    6) Hepatitis B
  • Blood tests
    7) Herpes (without symptoms)
  • Blood test
  • Swab taken from a herpes sore
  • Note: Ask specifically for an IgG (immunoglobulin-G) test.
    8) Herpes (with symptoms)
  • Blood tests
  • Swabs of the affected area
  • Note: This test must be done as soon as possible as viral culture tests tend to be inaccurate after 48 hours. Keep in mind that negative results do not necessarily mean you do not have herpes.
    9) Syphilis
  • Blood test
  • Fluid test taken from a syphilis sore
  1. Trichomoniasis
  • Physical exam
  • Test of a discharge sample
  • Swab of the infected area
  • Note: Although this is one of the most easily cured STDs, the infection is harder to detect in men.
    11) High-risk HPV (potential cervical cancer)
  • A test of cell samples taken from the cervix
  • Pap smear
  • HPV DNA test
  • Biopsy
  • Note: Pap smears are not designed to detect HPV, but an abnormal Pap test could point to HPV. There is not yet a reliable means of testing men for this form of HPV.
    12) Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Pelvic exam
  • A test of discharge taken from the vagina or cervix
  • Blood test
  • Laparoscope (a minimally invasive procedure wherein your doctor makes a small cut in the navel and inserts a small instrument to look at your reproductive organs.)

Home testing kits are becoming more popular, and they can generally be a helpful tool, giving you the chance to collect samples in the comfort and convenience of your own home. However, home test kits are often more susceptible to contamination or improper administration, which can lead to false-positive or false-negative results. If you take a home STD test, you may want to follow up with a doctor or clinic visit to make sure the results are completely accurate.

Step Three: Receiving Your Results

Once you have provided your doctor with all the necessary samples and they have been sent to the lab, be prepared to wait. You’ll likely wait a few days to about a week to get your complete results as most clinics do not offer same-day results.

If the results come back positive, don’t panic. STDs are surprisingly common and most can be cured easily. Begin by talking with your doctor about treatment plans, most of which involve a simple course of antibiotics. If you are prescribed antibiotics, make sure you take the full course. Don’t stop just because the symptoms have gone away. Taking the full course will help to completely eliminate the bacteria from your body.

Even viral infections, like those caused by herpes and HIV, have associated medications that can prevent outbreaks, treat symptoms, and keep the virus levels from progressing.

The most important thing you should do if you test positive for an STD is inform your partner. This can be a challenge for a lot of reasons, but it’s necessary to keep you and your partner healthy. Even if you’ve been treated, you can re-infect yourself if your partner has the same infection. Tell your partner and make sure they get tested and undergo any necessary treatments.

Step Four: Schedule Regular Tests and Screenings

If you’re sexually active, it’s a good idea to get regular testing to protect your health and the health of your partner. Here are some general recommendations for regular STD and STI tests.

  • Everyone between the ages of 13 and 65 should be tested for HIV at least once.
  • Sexually active women under 25 and older women with new or multiple partners or a current partner with a sexually transmitted infection should be tested every year for chlamydia and gonorrhea.
  • If you are pregnant, you should be tested for HIV, syphilis, chlamydia, and hepatitis B to ensure the health of you and your child.
  • At-risk pregnant women should be screened for gonorrhea with repeated tests if necessary.
  • Anyone who has unsafe sex or shares needles should be tested for HIV once every year.
  • All sexually active gay or bisexual men should be tested once a year for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.
  • Men who have sex with anonymous or multiple male partners may benefit from more frequent tests for chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea. This could be as frequent as every 3 to 6 months.
  • Gay or bisexual men who are sexually active may benefit from more frequent testing for HIV or AIDS.

Step Five: Practicing Safer Sex

Whether you tested positive or negative, you can still have a healthy active sex life as long as you commit to safe sex practices and educate yourself on the symptoms of STDs (women and men). Condoms, dental dams, and other barriers can significantly reduce the risk of spreading or contracting an STI.

Furthermore, remember that vaginal or anal intercourse isn’t the only way to have sex or express intimacy. Some sexual activities that will not spread STDs include:

  • Masturbation
  • Mutual masturbation
  • Sharing fantasies

Some low-risk sexual activities include:

  • Fondling or any manual stimulation
  • Kissing
  • Using sex toys (make sure to either use a condom on the sex toys or clean them before and after every use)
  • Oral sex (use a condom or dental dam to ensure safety)

Sexually transmitted diseases are still surrounded by taboo, which is unfortunate considering how common they truly are. If you think you have an STD, understand that it is not something you need to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Call or book online with PlushCare to set up a phone appointment with a top U.S. doctor today, and/or order a STD test now.

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