STD Test
Reasons to Get One, What to Expect, Associated Risks & More

STD Test May Also be Known as:

  • STI test
  • STD screening



4 Reasons You Would Need an STD Test

1. Rule Out Infection

Anyone can get a sexually transmitted disease (STD), including those who have never had sex. Some STDs, such as HPV and chlamydia, don’t always produce symptoms, so you can have these infections without knowing.[1]

An STD test helps you rule out infection if you think you might have an STD or exhibit symptoms of an STD. The most common symptoms of STDs include a burning sensation when urinating, pain during sex, discharge from the penis, unusual discharge or bleeding from the vagina, and sores or bumps on the mouth, anus, or genitals.[2] STDs can also cause fever, rash, lower abdominal pain, and sore, swollen lymph nodes in or near the groin.

STD symptoms can show up quickly, within a few days of exposure, or might not appear until years later. An STD test helps you find out whether you have an infection and need treatment.

2. Receive Treatment

STDs can produce painful, uncomfortable symptoms that interfere with your ability to complete normal everyday tasks, such as urinating. An STD test can help the doctor diagnose your symptoms so you can be treated early on and reduce or reverse the effects of the disease. When left untreated, STDs can have serious, long-term effects that compromise your health and quality of life.

STDs caused by bacteria and parasites, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis, can often be effectively treated using antibiotics.[3] Viral infections, such as HPV and herpes, might not be completely cured using antiviral medications, but they can be managed to reduce symptoms.

Receiving treatment for STDs early on can also help prevent symptoms from becoming visible to others and affecting self-esteem. For example, catching herpes in its early stages can prevent the virus from worsening and causing blisters and cold sores on the mouth.

3. Prevent Complications

Many STDs do not produce symptoms; however, an STD test can catch STDs in their early stages, before they progress to more serious illnesses. Common complications of untreated STDs include infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, meningitis, arthritis, vision impairment, heart disease, cancer, and pregnancy complications.[4] An STD test can help you prevent and avoid these complications by allowing your doctor to diagnose the disease and begin treatment right away.

4. Prevent Disease From Spreading

An STD test helps you take steps to prevent your disease from spreading to others, including your partner and other family members. For instance, a person who has a cold sore in its beginning stages can kiss family members on the mouth and unknowingly spread the herpes virus.

STDs that don’t produce symptoms can easily spread to others, who might also not exhibit symptoms and continue to spread the disease. An STD test helps you stay aware of any diseases you have so you can prevent your loved ones and other community members from becoming infected.

Understanding an STD Test

An STD test screens for STDs such as gonorrhea, genital herpes, and HIV. Many STDs can cause serious health complications when left untreated and can lead to the development of other illnesses and diseases. Some STDs do not cause symptoms and can even infect those who have never had sex. An STD test helps you determine whether you have an STD so you can receive treatment as early as possible and lower your risk for other medical conditions.

STD testing methods vary depending on the type of infection. Urine tests, blood tests, and swab tests are all common ways doctors screen for STDs.[5]

Risks of an STD Test

There are no major risks associated with undergoing an STD test. However, STD testing methods can be uncomfortable or embarrassing for some, and they can cause slight pain or discomfort. For example, blood tests involve pricking your finger or arm.

The risks of living with an STD and not knowing are far greater than those associated with the STD test itself. Some risks associated with not receiving an STD test include infertility, heart disease, cancer, and spreading the disease to others.

What to Expect With an STD Test

Each STD has its own testing method, as these diseases can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites and share a wide range of symptoms. STD tests are usually quick and relatively easy, and results are available anywhere from several minutes later to a few days.

Urine testing requires you to urinate into a cup and can screen for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Blood testing requires the doctor to draw blood from your arm or prick your finger and screens for syphilis, hepatitis, and HIV. Swab testing may be performed on the genitals, anus, throat, and open sores to screen for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Swabs are taken from inside the cheek to test for HIV.[6]

An STD test may also be conducted as a physical exam during which the doctor examines the genital area for visible signs of STDs, such as irritation, rash, sores, warts, and discharge. Women can visit a gynecologist to undergo a pap test and HPV screening.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About an STD Test

  • How can I prepare for an STD test?
  • Will the testing procedure cause pain or discomfort?
  • Which STDs does the test screen for?
  • How soon will I receive test results?
  • How accurate is the STD test I’m receiving?
  • Should my partner(s) also receive an STD test?
  • Can any factors interfere with STD test results?
  • Could my STD symptoms be for another health or medical condition?
  • Can I still engage in sexual activity while being treated?

Sources

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chlamydia - CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed). https://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stdfact-chlamydia-detailed.htm
  2. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. What are the symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/stds/conditioninfo/symptoms
  3. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Treatments for Specific Types of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STDs/STIs). https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/stds/conditioninfo/specific
  4. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Sexually Transmitted Diseases. https://www.niaid.nih.gov/diseases-conditions/sexually-transmitted-diseases
  5. National Institute of Health Medline Plus. Understanding, Treating, and Preventing STDs Questions to Ask your Health Care Professional. https://medlineplus.gov/magazine/issues/fall08/articles/fall08pg18-19.html
  6. National Library of Medicine. Vaginal swabs are the specimens of choice when screening for Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae: results from a multicenter evaluation of the APTIMA assays for both infections. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16314767

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