Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are typically diagnosed with a patient history which may include sexual history, and a physical examination.
Doctors check for STDs with tests such as:
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
- Swabs to collect samples from the vagina, urethra, throat, or rectum
Women are screened for cervical cancer every time they get a Pap test (sometimes called a "Pap smear") which can detect HPV.
People can check for STDs at home with home testing kits that are sent to labs. Kits require people to send in a sample to test, such as a:
- Urine sample
- Finger prick blood sample
- Vaginal, anal, or oral swab
Samples are sent to labs and tests are run on the samples. Patients must follow all instructions because poor sample collection can affect test results. If you receive a positive result, seek medical treatment immediately and notify any sexual partners so they can get tested.
Available home tests that require samples to be self-collected and sent to a lab include:
- Let’s Get Checked
- Planned Parenthood (only available in limited locations -- test kits can be requested over the phone)
There are some rapid, at-home STD tests that work similarly to a home pregnancy test, where patients collect samples and results are available within about 30 minutes. However, other than one rapid at-home test for HIV, none of these rapid home STD tests are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be sold directly to consumers.
What Are STDs?
STDs are sexually transmitted diseases (also called sexually transmitted infections or STIs), which are common illnesses passed from person-to-person through sexual activity such as vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
Common STDs include:
What Are Symptoms of STDs?
Symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) may vary depending on the infection.
Some STDS, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), and trichomoniasis may not cause any symptoms in some people.
Some common symptoms of STDs can vary depending on the condition and may include:
- Abnormal vaginal or penile discharge
- Pain or burning sensation when urinating
- Rectal pain, discharge, itching, soreness, or bleeding
- Pain and swelling in one or both testicles in men (less common)
- Blisters or sores in the genital area
- Blisters on the mouth or lips
- Swollen lymph nodes in the groin
- Genital warts
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Bleeding after sex
- Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice)
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach upset or pain
- Dark urine
- Light-colored or clay-colored stools
- Joint pain
What Causes STDs?
The causes of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) vary depending on the infection.
- Chlamydia is caused by infection with the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis
- Gonorrhea is caused by infection with the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae
- Hepatitis A and B are caused by viruses
- Herpes is caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2)
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) is caused by a viral infection
- Syphilis is caused by infection with the bacterium Treponema pallidum
- Trichomoniasis is caused by the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis
Most sexually transmitted diseases are passed from person-to-person through sexual activity such as vaginal, oral, or anal sex. STDs may also be transmitted from person-to-person through intimate physical contact, such as kissing or heavy petting, though this uncommon.
Viral hepatitis A can also be spread by caring for someone who is ill, using drugs with others, and by eating foods contaminated with the virus.
Viral hepatitis B can also be spread from an infected mother to her baby during birth, by sharing personal items (such as toothbrushes, razors, or medical equipment) with an infected person, by direct contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person, and by exposure to an infected person’s blood through needlesticks or other sharp instruments.
What Is the Treatment for STDs?
Treatment for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) may vary depending on the infection.
Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis are treated with different antibiotics, depending on the infection.
- Sexual partners should also receive treatment because it is possible to be reinfected
- Patients should be retested three months after treatment of the initial infection
- Sex should be avoided until both the patient and partner have been treated
Hepatitis A and B are treated with:
- Proper nutrition
- Hospitalization (severe cases)
- Herpes is treated with:
- Antiviral medicines
- Sitz baths
- Keeping the genital area clean and dry
- Avoiding tight clothing
- Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
There is no treatment for human papillomavirus (HPV) (genital warts), but HPV may go away on its own in some cases. Treatments for the health problems HPV can cause include:
- Prescription medication for genital warts
- Cervical precancer treatments
- Other HPV-related cancers are also more treatable when diagnosed and treated early
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