The World Health Organization reports that more than 1 million people acquire sexually transmitted diseases (STD). This shows that these types of infections are a lot more common than we anticipate.

Several STDs often go undiagnosed due to no or minor symptoms. Only when the symptoms start getting worse is when people seek medical interventions. Lack of timely testing is also due to the ongoing stigma and lack of open conversations surrounding the conditions.

STDs can be spread via sexual and non-sexual contact, including infected syringes, blood transfusion, pregnancy, etc. Getting tested for STDs is crucial for quicker treatments before it turns for the worse.

This article will explore everything related to the lab tests that diagnose STDs and why and where you should get them.

Why and Who Should undergo STD testing?

You’d be surprised to know this, but most of the common infections don’t exhibit any symptoms initially. This makes it difficult to diagnose any fatal infections that could lead to infertility or even cancer risks.

A regular STD screening rules out these complications, especially if you have a suspicion that you might have contracted the infection from someone.

You might need an STD testing if:

  • You are sexually active and have multiple sexual partners
  • You are a woman above the age of 21 and need to keep a check on your cervical health
  • You are pregnant and have an active sexually transmitted infection in your body
  • You had unprotected sex
  • You are a homosexual man, engaging in penetrative sex
  • You have been diagnosed with HIV
  • You have accidentally shared needles with an unknown person

Besides these instances; you should also consider getting an STD testing done if you are experiencing symptoms like painful urination, pain during sexual intercourse, vaginal discharge or bleeding, etc.

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What are the Different Types of Lab Tests for STDs?

Before you consider getting STD testing, we’d recommend discussing things at length with your doctor. Getting a better understanding of the required tests can save you money and also provide an accurate diagnosis.

Most lab tests for STDs check for one of the following conditions:

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • HIV
  • Hepatitis B
  • Syphilis
  • Trichomoniasis

This is subject to change depending on your sexual history. Your doctor will be a better guide in that case.

Some of the most common types of STD lab tests include:

1. Blood or Urine Tests

Most blood and urine tests check for bacterial or viral infections, including HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis.

They are routine tests that you can get done within a few minutes. You have to provide the blood or urine sample for further testing.

Despite the convenience, blood and urine tests for STDs aren’t always the most accurate. Most STDs don’t show up in the screening right after a person contracts it.

It might take the infection up to a month after exposure to show up in the bloodstream or the urine. This is especially accurate for HIV, which has a window period of a few weeks to a few months before a test can detect its presence.

2. Pap smears

Women who contract human papillomavirus (HPV) very frequently are at risk of cervical cancer. Pap smears are an effective diagnostic tool for that.

A general pap smear test can ascertain if the patient has an STD or not. For more accurate detection of the type of infection, a separate HPV test is prescribed.

Depending on the pap smear results, the doctor will either opt for HPV testing or suggest an ultrasound to check the reproductive anatomy of the patient.

HPVs are more common than you anticipate and highly common among sexually active women, accounting for 13 million cases each year.

3. Fluid samples

In patients with open genital sores, the doctors might prescribe fluid sample testing to ascertain what kind of STD the patient has.

This is very common in cases of genital herpes. So, if you have open sores that need further testing, discuss the procedure with your doctor for a comprehensive understanding.

This also accounts for the swab tests. This involves using vaginal, urethral, or cervical swabs to test for the different types of STDs known to men. A rectal swab is also prevalent for STD screening for homosexual men.

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4. Physical examination

Lastly, in patients with prominent symptoms, a series of physical examinations can support the diagnosis. This kind of lab testing is prevalent in patients with herpes and genital warts.

Having open communication with the doctor is crucial in this case. You need to discuss changes that you are experiencing in your body for better testing. If you are noticing sores and rashes in your genital areas, discuss those complications at length with your physician so they can offer correct treatment.

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Quick Breakdown of STDs and Testing Types

There are 20+ types of sexually transmitted diseases known to men. However, there are a handful of common STDs that lab tests prioritize. The following table should give an idea of the type of STDs and the related tests needed for the same.

Type of STD Type of Lab Testing
Chlamydia -Urine test

-Swab test

Gonorrhea -Urine test

-Swab test

HIV -Blood test

-At home tests

Syphilis -Blood test

-Swab test from genital sores

Hepatitis -Blood test
Genital herpes -Tissue scraping of the ulcers

-Swab tests

-Blood tests

HPV -Pap smear

-HPV test

Are the at-home STD Tests Accurate?

Given the prevalent stigma surrounding STDs, it isn’t surprising that people prefer getting at-home self-testing for STDs over lab tests.

The self-testing kits for HIV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea are gaining more and more popularity. The highlight of self-testing is the sample collection. People can collect the sample from the comfort of their homes and send it for further testing.

Remember that the self-testing kits aren’t 100% accurate. They can give false negatives quite often. So, if you have a suspicion that you might have come in contact with an STD infection, getting lab tests is a better option.

Conclusion

STDs are common, so getting proper screening isn’t something you should be ashamed of. If you have come in contact with infections, discuss the same with your doctor. STDs have various lab testing requirements that your doctor will discuss with you in detail. Depending on the reports, you will need treatments to overcome any lingering complications.

If you test positive, it is valid for you to have a surge of emotions running through your mind. Don’t let it take a toll on you because treatments effectively relieve the symptoms and cure certain STDs. 

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Dr. Divya Rohra has completed her MBBS from Grant Medical College and Sir JJ Group of Hospitals, Mumbai in 2019 with an excellent academic and clinical record. She has been the Joint Academic & Research Secretary of her batch in the year 2016-17 and successfully conducted various conferences and CMEs at her college. She has been the Director of Editorial and Web Communications of Rotaract Club of the Caduceus for two years. She has worked as a Paediatrics House Officer and Covid-19 Medical Officer at Mumbai. She has participated in various Quiz competitions, Poster Presentations, Symposia, Medical Documentary making competitions during her UG days and won awards for the same. She is working with PregaJunction as a Medical Content Auditor.

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