Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), or sexually transmitted infections (STIs), are infections that can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. STDs are typically transmitted from an infected person to an uninfected person through intimate contact including vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
If you are sexually active, you should get regular STD testing to keep you and those around you safe. At NewYork-Presbyterian, our expert physicians offer a comprehensive approach to STD testing, including the complete care and support you need.
What are STD tests?
Since all sexually active people could get an STD, testing is highly recommended. Even if you or your partner seem healthy, as you may still be infected. STDs don’t always cause symptoms, making it possible to catch or spread an infection unknowingly. Even if you are not experiencing any symptoms or are not considered to be at higher risk for being infected, you should get STD tested regularly.
People considered to be in high-risk categories for certain STDs and STIs include:
- Sexually active women, including women under the age of 25 should be tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea annually
- Sexually active women over the age of 25 should be tested if they have new or multiple sex partners or a partner diagnosed with an STD
- Women 21 years and older should get a pap smear to check for abnormalities in the cervix, including precancerous changes that can be caused by HPV (human papillomavirus)
- Pregnant women are typically tested for HIV, hepatitis B, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, and for those with certain risk factors and hepatitis C
- People having unprotected sex with multiple partners are at risk of being exposed to multiple bacteria and viruses.
- Men having sex with other men are at higher risk for syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV
- People with HIV are at higher risk of acquiring syphilis, gonorrhea, and herpes
- People that use injectable drugs or equipment are at higher risk for HIV and Hepatitis C
When to See a Doctor
If you are sexually active and may have been exposed to an STD or STI, or if you’re experiencing any symptoms, it is very important that you make an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment of an STD or STI is critically important to avoid infecting others and to increase the chance of limiting the effects of the disease.
Although not all STDs can be treated, some STDs can lead to long-term complications when left untreated. It is also very important to note that the signs and symptoms of an STD or STI vary by disease and by the individual. Some symptoms may appear within a few days of being exposed, while others may take years before any medical or health problems become noticeable.
Some of the most common symptoms that require medical attention from one of our NewYork-Presbyterian experts include:
- Abnormal discharge from the vagina or penis (this may get worse over a period of several days to two weeks)
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding or spotting after sexual intercourse
- Cloudy urine
- Crusting at the top of the penis
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Lower abdominal pain or feeling of heaviness in the pelvis or lower belly
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Painful, burning, or itching while urinating that last for longer than 24 hours
- Rash over the trunk, hands, or feet
- Sores, lumps, blisters, rashes, or warts in the genital or rectal area
- Sore or swollen lymph nodes (typically in the groin but can be more widespread)
STI vs. STD
The terms STI (sexually transmitted infection) and STD (sexually transmitted disease) are oftentimes used interchangeably, but are technically different. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections that have not developed into a disease and can include bacteria, viruses, or parasites. STIs are typically transmitted through bodily fluids or skin-to-skin contact where the infection is active during sexual activities. STIs can also be transmitted between people that share needles.
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are diseases that start as sexually transmitted infections (STIs). All STDs start as infections where pathogens enter the body and begin to multiply. When these pathogens begin disrupting normal body function and damage structures within the body, they become STDs. However, some STIs may never develop into a disease and become an STD. Normal treatment guidelines for the most common STIs include:
STIs caused by bacteria that are treated and cured with antibiotics:
STIs caused by viruses that can be treated to relieve symptoms but are not cured by antibiotics:
- Genital herpes
- Genital warts or HPV (human papillomavirus)
- Certain types of HPV can cause cervical cancer in women
Other infections that may be sexually transmitted include:
Types of STD/STI tests
The types of STI and STD tests vary depending on the type of suspected infection contracted. Tests generally used to diagnose different STDs and STIs include:
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
- Swab tests
- Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
- Advanced stage syphilis
- Advanced stage herpes
Home STD test kits are available to check for the presence of some STDs and STIs. However, our NewYork-Presbyterian experts recommend that you consult your doctor about how to get tested for STDs for any signs and symptoms you may be experiencing, especially if they are becoming more frequent or more severe.
How are STD tests done?
At NewYork-Presbyterian, testing for STDs and STIs is fairly simple and can typically be completed in the doctor’s office. You may have a urine test, or your doctor may take a sample of body fluid from your throat, inside the tip of the penis, or inside the rectum or vagina. Other testing may require a blood test and, in more advanced stage diseases such as syphilis or herpes, a lumbar puncture (also known as a spinal tap) may be needed.
Although the test results for some STDs and STIs may take longer to receive than others, test results are typically provided to you within one to ten days. If you test positive for an STD or STI, your doctor will discuss the STD treatment options with you and may recommend further testing, if necessary.
STD/STI Treatment Options
Options for treatment depend on whether the STD or STI was caused by bacteria, a virus, or a parasite. STDs and STIs caused by bacteria and parasites are treated by our NewYork-Presbyterian experts with antibiotics. These antibiotics are typically given orally (by mouth) although in some cases, they are administered intravenously.
The treatment for viral STDs depends on the particular virus and typically includes medications and special antiviral drugs that help reduce symptoms and the progression of the disease. One of our NewYork-Presbyterian experts will recommend the best option to treat and manage the disease at the time of diagnosis.
STDs and STIs are preventable if you protect yourself and your sexual partner(s). These are the most common and effective methods of preventing the spread of an STD or STI:
- Abstaining from sex
- Practicing safe sex by using new condoms and dental dams consistently and correctly
- Being responsible by testing for an STD or STI before having intercourse with new partners
- Getting vaccinated before sexual exposure to prevent HPV, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B.
- Not drinking alcohol excessively or using drugs, as being under the influence may increase the risk of taking sexual risks
- Communicating regularly and clearly with your sexual partner(s) about practicing safe sex
Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for STD Testing and Care
At NewYork-Presbyterian, we understand that finding out you may have an STD or STI can be very traumatic. Our expert physicians provide a comprehensive approach to STD testing and offer complete care and support to patients and families affected in a confidential environment. If you think you might have an STI or STD, contact one of our experts to request an appointment as soon as possible.