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STD Testing
Updated on December 30, 2022
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STD Testing
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Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infectious diseases passed on through contact with the genitals and exchanging body fluids. 

Sexual activity, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex, contributes to the spread of STDs. 

Most STDs don’t show signs. If you get symptoms, you may easily mistake them for other less severe conditions, which is why getting diagnosed early is key. 

“Early diagnosis leads to early treatment. This step is important so that these infections do not affect other organs in the body,” says expert Dr. Rizza Mira.

For example, cold sores from oral herpes often look like pimples or skin rashes. STD testing is the best way to tell if STDs are causing your symptoms.

STD Testing 3

Quick Facts On STD Tests  

  • One in five people in the U.S. have an STD1
  • Testing helps with the diagnosis and treatment of STDs
  • STD tests often have a window period

Why Take An STD Test?

Some people with STDs don’t develop symptoms, while others only show mild signs. Getting tested is the only way to know if you have STDs. 

STD tests help your doctor prescribe the proper medications before you develop other health problems. Certain STDs can lead to conditions like pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility if left untreated.

STD testing also lowers the transmission of viruses and bacteria that causes STDs. People may pass the infection on to others without knowing it if they remain untested.   

Testing can be a part of routine health screening, like prenatal check-ups. Your doctor may also order STD testing when your symptoms are consistent with certain STDs.

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Who Should Get Tested For STDs?

STD screening helps minimize the spread of STDs. Early STD diagnosis also enables you to get the proper treatment before the infection progress to more severe health conditions. 

Being sexually active puts you at some risk for STDs. But, STD screening for all sexually active people may not be practical. 

Screening focuses on people with increased risk due to their age, gender, health history, and sexual behavior. 

Doctors can recommend the most appropriate testing strategy based on your risk factors. Meanwhile, here’s an overview of general STD screening recommendations:

  • Adults and adolescents ages 13 to 64 should be tested for human immunodeficiency virus or HIV at least once or as needed based on risk factors.
  • Sexually active women should be tested regularly for gonorrhea and chlamydia yearly. 
  • Pregnant women should undergo hepatitis B, HIV, and syphilis testing as a part of prenatal care. If they have additional risk factors, they should also test for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Pregnant women have an additional risk of passing the infection to their children.
  • Sexually active bisexual men and gay men should undergo testing for syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis B at least once a year. Men from this group may also benefit from frequent HIV testing.
  • People who consistently engage in unprotected sex should be tested for HIV at least once a year. 
  • People who share injection drug equipment should undergo HIV testing at least once a year.

How STD Testing Works

First, doctors will evaluate your symptoms through a physical examination. Then, they’ll assess your risk factors before giving an order for an STD test. Some doctors will need swabs of the anus, vagina, or oral areas to detect the infection.

They’ll ask for information about your sexual behaviors and health history. Some behavioral factors increase your chances of acquiring STDs, like the following:2

  • Having multiple sex partners
  • Having sex with a partner who recently had an STD treatment
  • Lack of consistent use of condoms or barrier methods
  • Unprotected sex with sex workers

For your doctors or provider to decide on the testing process that best fits you, you must be honest with your sexual health history. 

“Partners of those who test positive for STDs will also need testing,” says Dr. Mira.

Testing at the right time

Proper timing is also important when testing for STDs. Some STDs are not detectable if you take the test too early. 

Sometimes, this can yield false-negative results, affecting the diagnosis of your condition. 

Here’s a table of common STDs and their window periods or estimated times for STD tests to detect infections:3

  • Chlamydia — 1 to 2 weeks
  • Syphilis — 1 to 3 months
  • Gonorrhea — 1 to 2 weeks
  • HIV — 1 to 3 months
  • Herpes — 1 to 4 months
  • HPV — 3 weeks to a few months
  • Trichomoniasis — 1 week to 1 month

Samples Collected For STD Tests

Medical experts will collect your sample based on the test your doctor ordered. The sample type also depends on your symptoms and the type of test.

For example, if you’re taking an oral STD test, they may collect your saliva or do a mouth swab.

The following are the most common specimens lab experts use for STD tests:

  • Blood
  • Urine
  • Vaginal swab
  • Anal swab
  • Saliva

Types of STD Tests

Your doctor may suggest one of these types of STD tests depending on the infection they suspect you have. 

“A culture of the microorganism causing the STD is the gold standard to diagnose your condition,” says Dr. Mira.

Blood tests

Healthcare experts use an STD blood test to diagnose syphilis, HIV, and herpes infection. Syphilis is caused by bacteria, while viruses cause HIV and herpes. 

A professional will draw a blood sample from a vein in your arm using a small needle. The needle has an attached vial or tube where the blood goes in. 

STD blood testing detects antibodies and proteins your body produces during STD infection. You may need to wait before getting tested because these antibodies take time to form.

For example, in herpes blood tests, doctors suggest testing at least 12 days from exposure.4 

Even when you have STD symptoms, the antibody levels in the blood may still be undetectable if you take the test too early. 

Urine tests

STD urine tests can diagnose chlamydia and gonorrhea. They can also detect trichomoniasis (or trich), but doctors don’t often administer it. 

“Because these infections predominantly affect the outer part of one’s genitals, a urine test may be used. However, there is no replacement for a sample swabbed from the genitalia if there is active discharge.” says Dr. Mira.

Gonorrhea and chlamydia are both bacterial STDs. On the other hand, a parasite or parasitic infection causes trich. 

During urine testing, your provider may ask you to collect your urine sample using a sterile container. Then, they’ll perform a bacteria culture on your specimen.

Positive test results show increased white blood cells or leukocytes in one’s urine. This suggests a bacterial infection.5

Swab tests

Healthcare providers use STD swab tests to diagnose the following STDs:

  • Chlamydia
  • Human papillomavirus or HPV
  • Gonorrhea
  • Herpes

Doctors do an STD swab test on the infection site. They may take the swab samples from the vagina or cervix in women and from the penis or urethra in men. 

Lumbar puncture

Medical experts don’t commonly use lumbar punctures or spinal taps to test for STDs. But they may order it if they suspect you have advanced syphilis.7 

They also suggest this test to detect herpes simplex virus (HSV) in your cerebrospinal fluid if you have signs of:8 

  • Encephalitis or brain infection
  • Meningitis or brain and spine infection

This test involves collecting and testing a small amount of fluid from your spine. Your doctor will numb your back by giving you an anesthetic shot. You won’t feel any pain during the procedure.

They’ll collect the spinal fluid from the spot between two vertebrae or small bones in your lower spine. They’ll puncture this site using a thin, hollow needle with a vial or tube attached.

How Much Does An STD Test Cost?

STD testing cost depends on where you’ll do it, what tests you’ll need, and your health insurance coverage. 

Many public health centers and community clinics offer STD testing at a lower cost. They may also have options for you to get free screening if you don’t have insurance.  

A complete STD panel typically costs around $150 to $380. The actual amount you’ll pay depends on the tests included in the panel, the lab, or the testing facility.

If you have health insurance, you can use it for a reduced price. Contact your insurance provider or the facility administration for a more accurate price estimate.

Getting Your STD Test Results

After your STD test, you may receive your results when you visit your doctor or the facility for a follow-up appointment. The facility may also inform you over the phone or through medical charts online. 

Once you have your results, you should see your doctor or a healthcare professional for further instruction or interpretation. They can tell you how to lessen your STD risk, and you can ask them questions about your test results. 

If you test positive, begin your treatment early to lessen your risk of developing health complications. 

Where Can I Get Tested For STDs?

Most people get tested for STDs at a doctor’s office, nearby hospital, or clinic. 

However, some feel embarrassed to see a doctor, especially if they have unpleasant symptoms. 

You can opt to test at home when you want more confidential STD testing. Testing companies offer at-home STD test kits, which you can purchase online.

STD Testing 4

The LetsGetChecked Standard 5 tests for these common STDs, as well other sexual health infections. Namely, they are mycoplasma and ureaplasma.

With at-home STD testing, you can skip the doctor’s appointment and go straight to testing. It can save you money when you don’t have insurance. 

At-home STD test kits include: 

  • Self-collection tools depending on the test type
  • Instructions on how to obtain your samples
  • Return envelop for mailing in your collected specimen

Incorrect sample collection affects your test results' accuracy, so follow the instructions in the kit strictly.

The results can come out as fast as with lab tests. Some companies offer follow-up consultation and treatment options once you avail of their home test kits.

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Updated on December 30, 2022
Cristine Santander
Cristine Santander
Content Contributor
Cristine Santander is a content writer for KnowYourDNA. She has a B.S. in Psychology and enjoys writing about health and wellness.
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