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STI Testing: Should I Get Tested For a Sexually Transmitted Infection


What is a Decision Point?

Decision Point

STI Testing: Should I Get Tested For a Sexually Transmitted Infection?

You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

STI Testing: Should I Get Tested For a Sexually Transmitted Infection?

Get the facts

Your options

  • Have a blood or urine test or some other test to screen for sexually transmitted infections.
  • Don't have the test.

This choice isn't for you if you believe you've been exposed to an STI or you have symptoms of an STI. You need to have a test as soon as possible.

This topic doesn't cover decisions about testing for HIV or testing for hepatitis B and C.

Key points to remember

  • Many health professionals recommend having a routine screening test for certain STIs if you have a high risk for infection. For example, you're at high risk if you're younger than 25 and sexually active, or if you've had more than one partner in the past year. Some STI tests are recommended for pregnant women whether or not they have a high risk for infection.
  • Some STIs don't cause symptoms, or they can cause symptoms that go away. So unless you have a test, you may not know that you have an STI.
  • STI testing can help find an infection early. If you know that you have an infection, you can get treatment and prevent spreading the infection to others.
  • Left untreated, some STIs can lead to serious problems. For example, if a woman has an STI when she gives birth, her newborn may have the disease.
  • If your test shows that you have an STI, your sex partner(s) will need to know so they can be tested.
  • Some STIs can be cured with treatment. Others can't be cured, but treatment can help with symptoms.
  • You may not need to be tested if you aren't sexually active, you have a very low risk for infection, or you and your doctor have already discussed whether you need a test.
FAQs

What is an STI?

Sexually transmitted infections are diseases spread by sexual contact. Some of the most common STIs are:

Left untreated, some STIs can lead to serious problems. For example:

  • Certain high-risk types of HPV can cause cervical cancer in women.
  • Some STIs can be passed from a woman to her newborn, which can cause serious problems for the baby.
  • Chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women. PID can lead to serious problems, including not being able to have a baby (infertility).
  • Syphilis can cause problems with pregnancy, nerve and heart problems, and death.
  • Gonorrhea can increase the risk of bladder cancer in men.

How are STIs treated?

Treatment is available for all sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to relieve symptoms, even if a cure isn't possible.

Some of the most common STIs—chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis—are caused by bacteria and are treated and cured with antibiotics.

STIs caused by viruses, such as genital herpes and genital warts, aren't cured with antibiotics. But treatments are available to relieve symptoms.

What STI tests do experts recommend be done routinely?

Having a routine STI test means getting tested even though you don't have symptoms of an infection. Experts say that certain groups should be routinely tested for certain STIs. Some expert opinions may vary, and your doctor may recommend testing based on your personal history.

Chlamydia

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends a chlamydia test for all high-risk nonpregnant and pregnant women.

You have a high risk of getting chlamydia if:

  • You're a sexually active female who is younger than age 25.
  • You've had chlamydia or other STIs before.
  • You have a new sex partner or have had more than one sex partner in the past year.
  • You don't use condoms when having sex, you use drugs, or you exchange sex for money.

Gonorrhea

The USPSTF recommends a gonorrhea test for all high-risk nonpregnant and pregnant women.

You have a high risk of getting gonorrhea if:

  • You're a sexually active male or female younger than 25.
  • You have had gonorrhea or other STIs before.
  • You have a new sex partner or have had more than one sex partner in the past year.
  • You have a high-risk partner. A high-risk partner has other sex partners, unprotected sex, or gonorrhea-infected sex partners.
  • You don't use condoms when having sex, you use drugs, or you exchange sex for money.

Syphilis

The USPSTF recommends a syphilis test for all men and women at high risk and all pregnant women.

You have a high risk of getting syphilis if you:

  • Are a man who has sex with men and has high-risk sexual behaviors.
  • Are a sex worker or you exchange sex for drugs.
  • Are in an adult prison or jail.

What are the tests for STIs?

Tests for STIs are fairly simple. If you have a test for chlamydia or gonorrhea, a nurse or doctor will test for bacteria that cause the infections. You may have a urine test, or the doctor may take a sample of body fluid from the throat, inside the tip of the penis, or inside the rectum or vagina. A gonorrhea culture test also may be done to see if the bacteria are resistant to antibiotics.

A syphilis test looks for antibodies to the bacteria that cause syphilis. Your doctor may do a blood test or may test body fluid or tissue. A follow-up test may be done to confirm the infection.

What are the benefits of getting tested?

Getting tested can help find an infection early or when you have no symptoms. This is important so that:

  • You can get treatment and avoid long-term problems, such as not being able to have a baby (infertility).
  • If you know that you have an STI, you can get treatment and avoid spreading the infection to others.
  • If you know that you have an STI, you can tell your sex partner(s) so they can be treated and can avoid spreading the infection.
  • If you're pregnant, an STI test can find an infection so you don't spread the infection to your newborn.

What are the risks of getting tested?

  • If your test shows that you have an STI, your sex partner(s) will need to know and get tested, which may affect your relationship.
  • If you have an STI, your doctor may be required by law to report it to your local health department. You may be asked for names and addresses of your sex partners.
  • You could have a false-positive test result, which shows that you have the disease when you actually don't. This could cause you unneeded worry and treatment.
  • For syphilis, you could have a false-negative result, which shows that you don't have the disease when you actually do. (Sometimes the test can't find the antibodies yet.) So you might infect others because you don't think you have the disease.

Why might your doctor recommend that you get tested?

Your doctor may want you to be tested if:

  • You have a high risk for getting an STI.
  • You are pregnant.

Compare your options

Compare

What is usually involved?









What are the benefits?









What are the risks and side effects?









Get tested for STIs Get tested for STIs
  • You have a blood or urine test or some other test.
  • You may have a follow-up test, such as a gonorrhea culture to see if the bacteria are resistant to antibiotics.
  • If the test shows that you have an infection, you can take steps to avoid spreading the disease to others.
  • You can tell others so they can decide whether to be tested.
  • If you're pregnant, you can avoid spreading the infection to your newborn.
  • A test could find an infection early and help you avoid long-term problems from the disease.
  • Getting tested may give you peace of mind.
  • If you have an STI, your doctor may have to report it to the health department. The health department may contact your sex partner(s).
  • Telling people that you have an STI may be hard for you and can affect your relationships.
  • Your test could give a false-positive result, which means that the results show that you have an infection when you don't.
  • Your test could give a false-negative result, which means that the results show that you don't have an infection when you do.
Don't get tested for STIs Don't get tested for STIs
  • You take steps to avoid getting or spreading an STI.
  • You consider getting tested in the future if your lifestyle changes or you become at risk for an STI.
  • You won't have to decide whether to tell other people that you have an STI.
  • You won't have the risk of getting a false-positive or false-negative test result.
  • You won't have a test you don't need (if you know you're not at risk for an STI.)
  • If you have an STI, you won't find out, and you may spread the infection to others.
  • If you're pregnant and have an STI, you could spread the infection to your newborn.
  • You won't be able to tell other people that they are at risk and might want to get tested. They could spread the infection to others.
  • You could have long-term problems from an untreated infection.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about considering STI testing

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

I just broke up with my partner. I thought we were in a monogamous relationship. But then I found out he was having sex with other people while we were together. I have an appointment to get tested right away. I don't want to risk giving an infection to someone else.

Jason, age 20

I'm a newlywed and just found out I'm pregnant! My doctor says I'll need to have an STI test, and I think that's crazy because I know my husband is faithful to me. But my doctor said all pregnant women should be tested, so I'm going to do it. I want to make sure that I have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

Serena, age 23

I had a test several months ago, and it was negative. I haven't had symptoms of any STIs since. I'm not in a relationship, and I haven't had sex with anyone since the test, so I don't think a test is necessary for me now.

Heather, age 30

I don't plan to have a test now. My doctor says I'm at pretty low risk since I haven't had sex with anyone since my wife and I split up a few years ago. But if I meet someone, I may do it and ask her to do the same. I think it would be a pretty hard conversation to have, though.

Bob, age 45

What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to get tested for STIs

Reasons not to get tested for STIs

I'm in a high-risk group for getting an STI.

I don't think I have a high risk of getting an STI.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm worried that I could have an STI that doesn't cause symptoms.

I have no reason to think that I might have an STI.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm worried that if I have an STI and don't get treatment, I could have serious problems.

I don't believe that I need treatment for an STI.

More important
Equally important
More important

I want to be sure I'm not spreading an STI to anyone.

I don't think there's any chance I could be spreading an infection to anyone.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm not worried that I could have a false-positive or false-negative test result.

I am worried about having a false-positive or false-negative test result.

More important
Equally important
More important

I feel that I could tell my sex partner(s) that I'm going to have a test.

I'm worried that if I tell my sex partner(s) I'm going to have a test, it would affect our relationship.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Having an STI test

NOT having an STI test

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1.

If I don't have any symptoms of an STI, I don't need a test.

  • True No, that's not right. Some STIs don't cause symptoms, especially in women. Experts recommend that sexually active women who are younger than 25, as well as others at high risk, have routine STI testing.
  • False That's right. Some STIs don't cause symptoms, especially in women. Experts recommend that sexually active women who are younger than 25, as well as others at high risk, have routine STI testing.
  • I'm not sure It may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." Some STIs don't cause symptoms, especially in women. Experts recommend that sexually active women who are younger than 25, as well as others at high risk, have routine STI testing.
2.

If I'm a woman and don't know if I have an infection, I could spread it to others and develop serious problems if I don't get treatment.

  • True Yes, that's right. Untreated STIs can lead to serious problems in women, including pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. A pregnant woman also can pass the infection to her newborn.
  • False No, that's wrong. Untreated STIs can lead to serious problems in women, including pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. A pregnant woman also can pass the infection to her newborn.
  • I'm not sure It may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." Untreated STIs can lead to serious problems in women, including pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. A pregnant woman also can pass the infection to her newborn.
3.

If I'm younger than 25, I need an STI test, because everyone that age has a high risk for getting an STI.

  • True No, that's not right. People younger than 25 have a higher risk of getting an STI if they are sexually active and have other risk factors. If you've never had sex or have discussed your risk with your doctor, you may not need a test.
  • False Yes, you're right. People younger than 25 have a higher risk of getting an STI if they are sexually active and have other risk factors. If you've never had sex or have discussed your risk with your doctor, you may not need a test.
  • I'm not sure It may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." People younger than 25 have a higher risk of getting an STI if they are sexually active and have other risk factors. If you've never had sex or have discussed your risk with your doctor, you may not need a test.

Decide what's next

1.

Do you understand the options available to you?

2.

Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3.

Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1.

How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure
3.

Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

Your Summary

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.

Your decision

Next steps

Which way you're leaning

How sure you are

Your comments

Your knowledge of the facts

Key concepts that you understood

Key concepts that may need review

Getting ready to act

Patient choices

Credits

Credits
CreditsHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerSarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerPeter Shalit, MD, PhD - Internal Medicine
You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

STI Testing: Should I Get Tested For a Sexually Transmitted Infection?

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
  1. Get the facts
  2. Compare your options
  3. What matters most to you?
  4. Where are you leaning now?
  5. What else do you need to make your decision?

1. Get the facts

Your options

  • Have a blood or urine test or some other test to screen for sexually transmitted infections.
  • Don't have the test.

This choice isn't for you if you believe you've been exposed to an STI or you have symptoms of an STI. You need to have a test as soon as possible.

This topic doesn't cover decisions about testing for HIV or testing for hepatitis B and C.

Key points to remember

  • Many health professionals recommend having a routine screening test for certain STIs if you have a high risk for infection. For example, you're at high risk if you're younger than 25 and sexually active, or if you've had more than one partner in the past year. Some STI tests are recommended for pregnant women whether or not they have a high risk for infection.
  • Some STIs don't cause symptoms, or they can cause symptoms that go away. So unless you have a test, you may not know that you have an STI.
  • STI testing can help find an infection early. If you know that you have an infection, you can get treatment and prevent spreading the infection to others.
  • Left untreated, some STIs can lead to serious problems. For example, if a woman has an STI when she gives birth, her newborn may have the disease.
  • If your test shows that you have an STI, your sex partner(s) will need to know so they can be tested.
  • Some STIs can be cured with treatment. Others can't be cured, but treatment can help with symptoms.
  • You may not need to be tested if you aren't sexually active, you have a very low risk for infection, or you and your doctor have already discussed whether you need a test.
FAQs

What is an STI?

Sexually transmitted infections are diseases spread by sexual contact. Some of the most common STIs are:

  • Chlamydia.
  • Genital herpes.
  • Genital warts or human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • Gonorrhea.
  • Hepatitis B.
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS.
  • Syphilis.
  • Trichomoniasis.

Left untreated, some STIs can lead to serious problems. For example:

  • Certain high-risk types of HPV can cause cervical cancer in women.
  • Some STIs can be passed from a woman to her newborn, which can cause serious problems for the baby.
  • Chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women. PID can lead to serious problems, including not being able to have a baby (infertility).
  • Syphilis can cause problems with pregnancy, nerve and heart problems, and death.
  • Gonorrhea can increase the risk of bladder cancer in men.

How are STIs treated?

Treatment is available for all sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to relieve symptoms, even if a cure isn't possible.

Some of the most common STIs—chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis—are caused by bacteria and are treated and cured with antibiotics.

STIs caused by viruses, such as genital herpes and genital warts, aren't cured with antibiotics. But treatments are available to relieve symptoms.

What STI tests do experts recommend be done routinely?

Having a routine STI test means getting tested even though you don't have symptoms of an infection. Experts say that certain groups should be routinely tested for certain STIs. Some expert opinions may vary, and your doctor may recommend testing based on your personal history.

Chlamydia

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends a chlamydia test for all high-risk nonpregnant and pregnant women.

You have a high risk of getting chlamydia if:

  • You're a sexually active female who is younger than age 25.
  • You've had chlamydia or other STIs before.
  • You have a new sex partner or have had more than one sex partner in the past year.
  • You don't use condoms when having sex, you use drugs, or you exchange sex for money.

Gonorrhea

The USPSTF recommends a gonorrhea test for all high-risk nonpregnant and pregnant women.

You have a high risk of getting gonorrhea if:

  • You're a sexually active male or female younger than 25.
  • You have had gonorrhea or other STIs before.
  • You have a new sex partner or have had more than one sex partner in the past year.
  • You have a high-risk partner. A high-risk partner has other sex partners, unprotected sex, or gonorrhea-infected sex partners.
  • You don't use condoms when having sex, you use drugs, or you exchange sex for money.

Syphilis

The USPSTF recommends a syphilis test for all men and women at high risk and all pregnant women.

You have a high risk of getting syphilis if you:

  • Are a man who has sex with men and has high-risk sexual behaviors.
  • Are a sex worker or you exchange sex for drugs.
  • Are in an adult prison or jail.

What are the tests for STIs?

Tests for STIs are fairly simple. If you have a test for chlamydia or gonorrhea, a nurse or doctor will test for bacteria that cause the infections. You may have a urine test, or the doctor may take a sample of body fluid from the throat, inside the tip of the penis, or inside the rectum or vagina. A gonorrhea culture test also may be done to see if the bacteria are resistant to antibiotics.

A syphilis test looks for antibodies to the bacteria that cause syphilis. Your doctor may do a blood test or may test body fluid or tissue. A follow-up test may be done to confirm the infection.

What are the benefits of getting tested?

Getting tested can help find an infection early or when you have no symptoms. This is important so that:

  • You can get treatment and avoid long-term problems, such as not being able to have a baby (infertility).
  • If you know that you have an STI, you can get treatment and avoid spreading the infection to others.
  • If you know that you have an STI, you can tell your sex partner(s) so they can be treated and can avoid spreading the infection.
  • If you're pregnant, an STI test can find an infection so you don't spread the infection to your newborn.

What are the risks of getting tested?

  • If your test shows that you have an STI, your sex partner(s) will need to know and get tested, which may affect your relationship.
  • If you have an STI, your doctor may be required by law to report it to your local health department. You may be asked for names and addresses of your sex partners.
  • You could have a false-positive test result, which shows that you have the disease when you actually don't. This could cause you unneeded worry and treatment.
  • For syphilis, you could have a false-negative result, which shows that you don't have the disease when you actually do. (Sometimes the test can't find the antibodies yet.) So you might infect others because you don't think you have the disease.

Why might your doctor recommend that you get tested?

Your doctor may want you to be tested if:

  • You have a high risk for getting an STI.
  • You are pregnant.

2. Compare your options

Get tested for STIs Don't get tested for STIs
What is usually involved?
  • You have a blood or urine test or some other test.
  • You may have a follow-up test, such as a gonorrhea culture to see if the bacteria are resistant to antibiotics.
  • You take steps to avoid getting or spreading an STI.
  • You consider getting tested in the future if your lifestyle changes or you become at risk for an STI.
What are the benefits?
  • If the test shows that you have an infection, you can take steps to avoid spreading the disease to others.
  • You can tell others so they can decide whether to be tested.
  • If you're pregnant, you can avoid spreading the infection to your newborn.
  • A test could find an infection early and help you avoid long-term problems from the disease.
  • Getting tested may give you peace of mind.
  • You won't have to decide whether to tell other people that you have an STI.
  • You won't have the risk of getting a false-positive or false-negative test result.
  • You won't have a test you don't need (if you know you're not at risk for an STI.)
What are the risks and side effects?
  • If you have an STI, your doctor may have to report it to the health department. The health department may contact your sex partner(s).
  • Telling people that you have an STI may be hard for you and can affect your relationships.
  • Your test could give a false-positive result, which means that the results show that you have an infection when you don't.
  • Your test could give a false-negative result, which means that the results show that you don't have an infection when you do.
  • If you have an STI, you won't find out, and you may spread the infection to others.
  • If you're pregnant and have an STI, you could spread the infection to your newborn.
  • You won't be able to tell other people that they are at risk and might want to get tested. They could spread the infection to others.
  • You could have long-term problems from an untreated infection.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about considering STI testing

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

"I just broke up with my partner. I thought we were in a monogamous relationship. But then I found out he was having sex with other people while we were together. I have an appointment to get tested right away. I don't want to risk giving an infection to someone else."

— Jason, age 20

"I'm a newlywed and just found out I'm pregnant! My doctor says I'll need to have an STI test, and I think that's crazy because I know my husband is faithful to me. But my doctor said all pregnant women should be tested, so I'm going to do it. I want to make sure that I have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby."

— Serena, age 23

"I had a test several months ago, and it was negative. I haven't had symptoms of any STIs since. I'm not in a relationship, and I haven't had sex with anyone since the test, so I don't think a test is necessary for me now."

— Heather, age 30

"I don't plan to have a test now. My doctor says I'm at pretty low risk since I haven't had sex with anyone since my wife and I split up a few years ago. But if I meet someone, I may do it and ask her to do the same. I think it would be a pretty hard conversation to have, though."

— Bob, age 45

3. What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to get tested for STIs

Reasons not to get tested for STIs

I'm in a high-risk group for getting an STI.

I don't think I have a high risk of getting an STI.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm worried that I could have an STI that doesn't cause symptoms.

I have no reason to think that I might have an STI.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm worried that if I have an STI and don't get treatment, I could have serious problems.

I don't believe that I need treatment for an STI.

More important
Equally important
More important

I want to be sure I'm not spreading an STI to anyone.

I don't think there's any chance I could be spreading an infection to anyone.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm not worried that I could have a false-positive or false-negative test result.

I am worried about having a false-positive or false-negative test result.

More important
Equally important
More important

I feel that I could tell my sex partner(s) that I'm going to have a test.

I'm worried that if I tell my sex partner(s) I'm going to have a test, it would affect our relationship.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

4. Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Having an STI test

NOT having an STI test

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

5. What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1. If I don't have any symptoms of an STI, I don't need a test.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
That's right. Some STIs don't cause symptoms, especially in women. Experts recommend that sexually active women who are younger than 25, as well as others at high risk, have routine STI testing.

2. If I'm a woman and don't know if I have an infection, I could spread it to others and develop serious problems if I don't get treatment.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
Yes, that's right. Untreated STIs can lead to serious problems in women, including pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. A pregnant woman also can pass the infection to her newborn.

3. If I'm younger than 25, I need an STI test, because everyone that age has a high risk for getting an STI.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
Yes, you're right. People younger than 25 have a higher risk of getting an STI if they are sexually active and have other risk factors. If you've never had sex or have discussed your risk with your doctor, you may not need a test.

Decide what's next

1. Do you understand the options available to you?

2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure

2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.

  • I'm ready to take action.
  • I want to discuss the options with others.
  • I want to learn more about my options.

3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

Credits
ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerSarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerPeter Shalit, MD, PhD - Internal Medicine

Note: The "printer friendly" document will not contain all the information available in the online document some Information (e.g. cross-references to other topics, definitions or medical illustrations) is only available in the online version.

Last Revised: August 24, 2011

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review: Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Peter Shalit, MD, PhD - Internal Medicine


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