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How to test for STDs

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on February 18, 2020. Written by Kathryn Wall. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also known as sexually transmitted infections or STIs, are relatively common in the U.S.—where nearly 20 million new infections occur every year. Many STDs do not cause symptoms, which is why it’s important to take an STD test one or more times per year—especially if you are sexually active and have multiple partners. Routine STD testing can help you stay informed about your health so you can seek treatment if needed and minimize the risk for long-term health complications.


Routine testing for STDs is easy with Everlywell at-home STD testing for women and STD testing for men. Test results can be conveniently viewed on our secure, online platform.


Read on to learn how to get tested for STDs, common causes of STDs in women and men, where to get an STD test kit, and more.

How to test for STDs at home

All adults should have at least one STD test at some point in their lifetime, even if they aren’t sexually active or have had the same partner for many years. Your healthcare provider can recommend the best STI testing schedule for you based on your current sexual activity level and other factors.

It’s also a good idea to take an STD test if you start experiencing symptoms of an STD. (Related: How do you know if you have an STD?)

Common STD symptoms include:

  • Genital warts
  • Pain when urinating
  • Unusual discharge from the vagina or penis
  • Bleeding during or after sex
  • Pain during sex
  • Severe itching near the penis or vagina
  • Weight loss
  • Night sweats
  • Muscle and joint aches and pains

If you’re experiencing symptoms of gonorrhea, chlamydia, or any other STD, it may be helpful to get tested right away. STD testing is offered by most general practitioners and sexual health clinics for many different types of STDs. You can also take an STD test from the convenience of your home using the Everlywell at-home STD Test kit for women or men.

An STD test can be performed as a blood test, urine test, or swab test.

During an STD urine test, you simply urinate into a cup to collect your sample. During an STD blood test, your healthcare provider will take blood from your arm or—if you’re taking an STD home test—a quick finger prick lets you collect the blood sample.

An STD swab test can be performed in several different ways:

  • Rubbing a soft swab on the inside of your cheek
  • Collecting discharge or cell samples by swabbing the genitals or other areas of the body

If you’d prefer testing for STDs at home—instead of at a sexual health clinic or lab—consider using an Everlywell at-home STD test that screens for 7 different STDs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis C, herpes type 2, HIV, syphilis, and trichomoniasis. Discreet at-home STD tests are available for both men (STD Test - Male) and women (STD Test - Female). These Everlywell STD tests require only a small sample of blood (collected via a simple finger prick), plus urine (for the male STD test) or a vaginal swab (for the female STD test).

Sample types used for testing different STDs

The kind of sample that’s used for screening depends on what STD you’re getting tested for. Here’s a breakdown of the sample types commonly used to test for different sexually transmitted infections.

  • Chlamydia: Urine or genital swab
  • Gonorrhea: Urine or genital swab
  • Hepatitis C: Blood (via blood draw or a finger prick)
  • Herpes type 1 (HSV-1): Skin swab or blood (via blood draw or a finger prick)
  • Herpes type 2 (HSV-2): Skin swab or blood (via blood draw or a finger prick)
  • HIV: Blood (via blood draw or a finger prick)
  • Syphilis: Blood (via blood draw or a finger prick) or skin swab
  • Trichomoniasis: Urine or genital swab (cervical swabs are sometimes collected for testing in women)
  • HPV: Vaginal swab or cervical swab

Common causes of STDs

A sexually transmitted disease is transmitted through exposure to viruses or bacteria and parasites as a result of sexual contact. STDs that are spread through viruses include genital herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). STDs that are spread through bacteria include syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea—while trichomoniasis is spread through a parasite.

Sexual activity, including oral sex, with infected partners is the most common way people get STDs. The risk is highest for those who have unprotected sex, and for those who have more than one sexual partner.

Untreated STDs can increase the risk of several serious health problems. That’s why routine STD testing is key to staying healthy and reducing your risk for serious medical conditions. To protect your sexual health and reduce your risk of a sexually transmitted disease, use protection with every sexual partner and undergo regular STI testing.

Here are several health conditions associated with sexually transmitted infections.

Pelvic inflammatory disease

Chlamydia and gonorrhea—the most common sexually transmitted bacterial infections—are associated with pelvic inflammatory disease, which can eventually lead to fertility problems. Symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease include pain in the lower abdomen, irregular menstrual bleeding, and pain or bleeding during sexual intercourse.


Infertility

STD-related infertility is almost always associated with pelvic inflammatory disease. In the U.S., gonorrhea and chlamydia cause infertility in approximately 24,000 women each year due to the way these infections slowly damage the reproductive organs. Symptoms of STD-related infertility include heavy or painful menstrual periods and dark or pale menstrual blood.


Heart disease

Some STDs have been shown to increase the risk for heart disease and heart attack. A 2005 study conducted by the University of Wisconsin found that bacterial infections such as chlamydia can trigger inflammation and autoimmune reactions that lead to plaque buildup in arteries and an increased risk for heart attack (acute myocardial infarction). Symptoms of heart attack include shortness of breath; pressure, tightness, or pain in the chest; and lightheadedness or sudden dizziness.


Cervical cancer

An estimated 70% of cervical cancers and precancerous cervical lesions are caused by HPV. About 90% of HPV infections clear on their own without intervention within 2 years, while the remaining 10% may eventually progress to cervical cancer. Cervical cancer rarely causes immediate symptoms, though some women may experience pelvic pain, irregular menstruation, and persistent back pain.

Available treatments for STDs

If your STD test results come back positive, talk with your healthcare provider as soon as possible to discuss available treatment options. Many sexually transmitted infections can be resolved with medications such as antibiotics or antiviral drugs.

If your STD test results come back negative, continue taking steps to prevent STDs and reduce your risk as much as possible—such as using protection like condoms during sex.

Common questions about STD testing

How much does an STD test cost?

The cost of an STD test depends on factors such as the test method being used, the infections you’re getting tested for, the type of sexual health clinic you visit, and whether or not you have health insurance. Many clinics offer free STD test options for those with low income or no health insurance. The at-home Everlywell STD home test kit—which lets you easily check for 7 common sexually transmitted infections—costs $199 (with no additional or hidden fees). You can take the at-home STD test for women or men.


How long does an STD test take?

Most STD tests are relatively fast, and sample collection can be performed within a few minutes. If you want to be in and out of the clinic as quickly as possible, consider making an appointment instead of walking in—or take a convenient and discreet STD home test kit for men or women.


How long does an STD test take to get back?

How long does it take to get STD results back after testing? This can depend on factors like whether you got tested at a clinic or tested at home. In general, results should be available within several days after testing.


How to test for chlamydia

How to test for herpes

How to test for HPV


References

1. Sexually transmitted disease (STD) symptoms. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed February 18, 2020.

2. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). HHS.gov. URL. Accessed February 18, 2020.

3. STDs & Infertility. Centers for Disease and Prevention. URL. Accessed February 18, 2020.

4. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) Diagnosis. National Institutes of Health. URL. Accessed February 18, 2020.

5. Arcari CM, Gaydos CA, Nieto FJ, et al. Association between Chlamydia pneumoniae and acute myocardial infarction in young men in the United States military: the importance of timing of exposure measurement. Clin Infect Dis. 2005;40(8):1123–1130. doi:10.1086/428730

6. Heart attack. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed February 18, 2020.

7. Human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer. World Health Organization. URL. Accessed February 18, 2020.