How Do You Get Tested for STDs?

Reviewed on 3/11/2021

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are 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, and swabs to collect samples from the vagina (including a Pap test), urethra, throat, or rectum.
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are 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, and swabs to collect samples from the vagina (including a Pap test), urethra, throat, or rectum.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are 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 but no other STDs.

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. 

Chlamydia may not cause any symptoms. When symptoms of chlamydia occur, they may include:

  • Abnormal vaginal or penile discharge
  • Burning sensation when urinating
  • Rectal pain, discharge, or bleeding from anal infection
  • Pain and swelling in one or both testicles in men (less common)

Gonorrhea may not cause any symptoms. When symptoms of gonorrhea occur, they may include:

  • Pain or burning sensation when urinating
  • White, yellow, or green discharge from the penis
  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods
  • Rectal pain or bleeding
  • Anal itching or soreness
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Painful or swollen testicles (less common)

Hepatitis symptoms may include: 

Herpes may not cause any symptoms. When symptoms of genital herpes occur, they may include:

  • Blisters in the genital area
    • In women, this area includes the vagina, anus, buttocks, or thighs
      • Sores inside the vagina may be difficult to see
      • Women are more likely to have difficulty or pain urinating 
    • In men, this area includes the penis, scrotum, anus, buttocks, or thighs
    • Sores may look like pimples or fluid-filled blisters that are red, white, or yellow
    • Blisters may become painful open sores, which ooze and develop a yellow-colored crust as they heal
    • There may be a single sore or a cluster of sores
  • Blisters on the mouth or lips
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Pain in the joints
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the groin

Human papillomavirus (HPV) may not cause any symptoms. When symptoms of human papillomavirus (HPV) occur, they may include:

  • Genital warts 
    • Usually appear as a small bump or group of bumps 
    • May be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower
    • May appear pink or flesh-colored
    • Can occur on the anus, cervix, scrotum, groin, thigh, or penis

Syphilis symptoms vary by stage. 

  • Symptoms of the primary stage of syphilis include:
    • Single sore or multiple sores
    • Sores are usually (but not always) firm, round, and painless
  • Symptoms of the secondary stage of syphilis include:
  • The latent stage syphilis is a period when there are no visible signs or symptoms
  • Symptoms of the tertiary stage of syphilis include:
    • Not everyone with untreated syphilis will develop tertiary syphilis
    • This stage is very serious and can affect many organ systems including the heart and blood vessels, and the brain and nervous system
    • Can be fatal

Trichomoniasis may not cause any symptoms. When symptoms of trichomoniasis occur, they may include:

  • Pus-filled thin vaginal discharge with a foul odor (may appear green-yellow and frothy)
  • Clear or mucusy penile discharge 
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Soreness
  • Pain or discomfort when urinating
  • Urinary frequency
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Painful sexual intercourse 
  • Bleeding after sex
  • Symptoms may be worse during menstruation
  • Vulvar redness
  • Preterm delivery, and delivery of a low birth weight infant in pregnant women
  • Mild itching or burning sensation in the penis after sexual intercourse
  • T. vaginalis in men has also been associated with prostatitis, balanoposthitis, epididymitis, infertility, and prostate cancer in men

Babies born to mothers who have trichomoniasis may become infected during delivery. Symptoms of trichomoniasis in newborns include: 

SLIDESHOW

12 Preventable STDs: Pictures, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment See Slideshow

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 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, as detailed in the STD Treatments table below. 

STD Treatments
Disease Treatment Type
Chlamydia

Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics. 

  • The recommended treatment is 1 g azithromycin taken orally in a single dose
  • Certain other antibiotics may be used if patients are unable to take azithromycin
  • Patients are advised to avoid sex for seven days after completing the antibiotic treatment because the infection is still contagious during this period
  • Sexual partners should also be treated
  • After treatment, patients should be re-tested for chlamydia about three months after their diagnosis because many people are re-infected from untreated sexual partners
Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics.

  • The recommended treatment is a one-time injection of ceftriaxone 
  • Sexual partners should also receive treatment because it is possible to be reinfected with gonorrhea
  • Patients should be retested for gonorrhea three months after treatment of the initial infection
  • Sex should be avoided until both the patient and partner have been treated
Hepatitis

Hepatitis A and B are treated with: 

  • Rest
  • Adequate nutrition
  • Fluids
  • Hospitalization (severe cases)
Herpes

Herpes is treated with: 

  • Antiviral medicines 
  • Sitz bath (for genital herpes lesions)
  • Keeping the genital area clean and dry
  • Avoiding tight clothing
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) 
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) (genital warts)

There is no treatment for HPV but in some cases, HPV will go away on its own. 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
Syphilis

Syphilis is treated with antibiotics.

  • The recommended treatment is penicillin
  • Follow-up testing is recommended to make sure patients are cured
Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is treated with antibiotic/antiprotozoal medications. 

  • The recommended treatments are metronidazole (Flagyl) or tinidazole (Tindamax)
  • Sexual partners should be treated at the same time to avoid being reinfected by your sexual partner 
  • Sex should be avoided until both the patient and partner have been treated
  • Follow-up testing is recommended to make sure patients are cured
 

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

From WebMD Logo

Reviewed on 3/11/2021
References
https://www.cdc.gov/std/default.htm

https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/chlamydia-beyond-the-basics?search=Chlamydia&source=search_result&selectedTitle=2~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=2

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/gonorrhea-beyond-the-basics?search=Gonorrhea&source=search_result&selectedTitle=2~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=2#H13

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/genital-herpes-the-basics?search=herpes&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=1

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/human-papillomavirus-hpv-the-basics?search=HPV&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=1

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/syphilis-the-basics?search=Syphilis&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=1

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/trichomoniasis?search=Trichomoniasis&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~87&usage_type=default&display_rank=1