The latest reports on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) shared by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that America’s STD rate has hit a new high again for the sixth consecutive year. In 2019, nearly 2.5 million Americans had an infection of chlamydia, gonorrhea or syphilis while the early data from 2020 suggests that these trends remained unchanged.
STDs are a common occurrence but many do not have any apparent symptoms. If left untreated, they can lead to deleterious health problems such as organ damage, infertility, and ectopic pregnancies, in the case of women. Hence, you must seek help immediately if you suspect there is an infection.
STD testing is the only way to definitively know if you have an infection. However, the stigma around STDs prevents many people from seeking medical help, which delays its treatment and can cause the symptoms to exacerbate and lead to irreversible damage.
This article will explain all that you need to know about STDs, its types, common symptoms, and how to get yourself tested.
What are STDs?
STDs are caused by microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses that are transferred between sexual partners during sexual activity or other forms of intimate contact. CDC estimates indicate about 20 percent of the U.S. population (one in five people) had an STI on any given day in 2018. Moreover, half of the new infections were among youth aged between 15 and 24.
Annual physical and sexual health checkups are vital in the early detection of STDs. Many healthcare providers may not include STD testing in your annual checkup. Thus, you should always ask your doctor for STD testing if it is not included. If you suspect you have an STD, letting your doctor know at your earliest convenience will pave the way for a good prognosis.
While it may be difficult for some people, but the more open you are about your condition, the easier it will be for your doctor to provide effective and timely treatment.
If you are pregnant, you should still go for STD testing as untreated STDs can cause complications for the fetus. Hence, it is essential to get tested during your prenatal checkups. Moreover, survivors of rape or sexual assault may seek help from trusted and trained healthcare providers who can connect them with helpful resources and organizations that offer support and screenings.
Several risk factors may make you more susceptible to STDs. For one, if you or your partner have other sexual partners, you may be at a higher risk for STDs.
Unprotected sex also makes you more vulnerable to disease-causing agents. Furthermore, if you engage in anal sex, then certain anal STDs cannot be detected using standard STD testing protocols. Hence, you must discuss your risk factors with your doctor openly so that they may make appropriate recommendations.
Types of STDs
According to CDC, chlamydia is the most common STD in the U.S. today. It is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. There are no obvious symptoms, but they can be treated with antibiotics. However, if left untreated, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
Syphilis is another bacterial infection that presents itself as a painless sore at the site of infection. It persists without symptoms for some time but can be treated with antibiotics.
Gonorrhea is caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It does not have apparent symptoms but leads to complications such as infertility and PID in women.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV causes viral infections in the genitals, mouth, and throat. There are several types of HPV, many being low-risk and not causing serious infection. However, high-risk HPV may lead to cervical cancer.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
HIV causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). It attacks the body’s immune system, reducing its ability to fight infections. While there is no cure as of yet, early detection can help manage the symptoms.
Symptoms of STDs
All STDs do not have obvious symptoms and some of them may be confused with other common conditions like urinary tract infection (UTI) or yeast infection. Thus, STD testing is the best way to diagnose any possible STDs.
While different STDs may have different symptoms, some common ones include:
- Sores around your genitals and anus;
- Burning sensation while peeing;
- Discharge from your penis or vagina;
- Itching, swelling, pain, or irritation around your genitals;
- Fever; and
- Body aches.
How to Get Tested?
There are several ways to perform STD testing. You can get tested at a hospital or in a sexual health clinic. However, many people abstain from getting checked by a doctor due to the stigma and judgment attached to STDs.
Alternatively, there are also home STD testing kits available along with online STD testing resources. Home STD testing kits are of two types:
In lab-based tests, you can hand over a lab requisition to a testing facility which will then perform the test for you. Results are available over email within a few days.
Online STD testing kits provide the necessary tools, such as swabs, so that you can perform the test comfortably and in privacy at home. After taking the sample, you can hand it over to a testing center which will provide you with the results.
Pros and Cons of Home STD Testing
Home STD testing is a great option if you value your privacy. This means no awkward encounters with acquaintances at the clinic or testing facility and you can take the sample yourself. Moreover, you can test for multiple STDs using the same STD testing kit.
However, home STD testing may not always be reliable, and you might face delays in sending and receiving samples. Sometimes it is also tricky interpreting results if they are ambiguous. Lastly, you cannot get immediate treatment as you are undertaking the test on your own. You will have to take your results to the doctor and then wait for them to prescribe the required medicines. Thus, it is important to keep these factors and the severity of your condition in mind when choosing the type of STD test you want to take.
How Reliable are Home STD Tests?
Home STD testing kits undergo a thorough evaluation to ensure they provide accurate results. The Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA) has also established an accreditation program for labs and testing kits. Thus, you will have to ensure that the CLIA certification is present while ordering online STD testing kits to know that they are reliable.
How are STD Tests Performed?
Most STDs can be detected in urine or blood samples. However, that is not the most accurate route in all cases. To confirm, other methods are also used such as physical exams, swabs, and pap smears.
Combined with other methods like blood tests, your doctor will take you to a separate room and examine your genitals for obvious signs of STDs like sores, warts, and bumps.
Vaginal, urethral, and cervical swabs are commonly used to look for STDs. Rectal swabs are also used to check for anal STDs.
Pap smears are mostly used to detect early signs of cervical or anal cancer due to HPV. However, abnormal pap smears do not always mean you have cancer. Your doctor may recommend a separate HPV test to look for possible infections.
The Final Word
STDs are fairly common, but if left untreated, they can lead to severe health problems. Thus, it is always advised to get tested regularly. While some people feel reluctant to go for STD testing at a clinic, there are many online STD testing and home STD testing kits available.
Although many STDs are treatable using antibiotics, they inevitably make our bodies more vulnerable to other infections and viruses that may not be curable. If you suspect an infection, you should immediately get tested to prevent its spread. Family Medicine Austin offers STD testing services as well along with other healthcare services, and the results are shared with the patients as soon as the lab results are produced.