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How do I know if I have an STD?


Updated May 23, 2014

Nervous man in hospital gown sitting on examining table
Adrian Peacock/Stockbyte/Getty Images

One of the most frequent questions I get asked on my website is, "How do I know if I have an STD?" My answer is always the same - STD testing. There are a number of reasons why getting an STD test is the only way that you can be certain whether or not you have an STD. The two most important are:

  1. Many STD symptoms are non-specific. This means that the symptoms that you have could be caused by a number of different STDs, or even another disease entirely. The only way to be certain is to get tested.
  2. Most people with STDs have no symptoms. That means they look, smell, and feel exactly the same as they would without having an STD. However, they can still pass their infections onto their partners. They may also experience long-term consequences, such as infertility.

Therefore, the only way to be certain about your health status is to get tested and to know what you've been tested for. Otherwise, you may assume that you've been tested for something when you haven't.

What Will Happen at the Doctor's Office?

When you go to a doctor to be tested for STDs, they may start by asking you questions about your risk factors. After assessing what diseases you are at risk for, they will test you for those conditions. Anyone with a new partner or multiple partners should be screened for chlamydia and gonorrhea, but testing for other STDs is usually done at the doctor’s discretion. Syphilis screening, for example, is recommended for pregnant women and certain high risk groups including prison inmates, men who have high risk sex with men, and patients with another STD. In the absence of symptoms, however, other people are not usually tested for syphilis, because of the risk of false positives.

That said, if you know you are at risk for a particular disease or just want more comprehensive screening, speak up. The best way to make sure you’re screened is to ask.

It's important to know that although public clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, frequently test for STDs as a standard part of a yearly exam, many private doctors do not. Therefore even though you may think you’re safe, because your doctor hasn’t told you that you have an infection, it’s possible that you haven’t been tested at all. You should always ask what screening tests your doctor has performed, and don’t hesitate to ask for additional tests if you think they are appropriate. STD testing is often, but not always, covered by insurance. It is also sometimes available for free at a clinic.

Will STD Testing Hurt?

These days, most STDs can be tested for with urine or blood tests. These are quick and relatively painless. It is rare that STD testing requires a urethral swab in men, although many women still need to have a vaginal swab performed to test for certain bacterial infections. However, the vaginal swab shouldn't be uncomfortable, and women who are nervous may be able to ask their doctors if they can do their own swab.

Did You Know: Pap smears aren't STD tests. They look for precursors to cervical cancer. However, an HPV test is sometimes done at the same time as a Pap smear.

Below, you will find links that describe how doctors test for some of the most common STDs.


Next: Learn about how to go about finding STD treatment...

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