According to the World Health Organization, the number of people contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) has increased in the last couple of years.
The most common STIs, also called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, trichomoniasis, hepatitis B, genital herpes, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). They spread via sexual contact or through shared needles. They can also be transmitted from a mother to an infant during pregnancy or childbirth.
Testing is a preventative measure against the rapid spread of STIs. Read ahead to learn more about the benefits of testing as well as when and how to do it.
The importance of testing
STIs can have serious health consequences. For example, genital herpes, gonorrhea, and syphilis can increase your risk of getting HIV. If you are pregnant and have an STI, you can transmit it to your child. This could lead to premature birth, stillbirth, and congenital deformities.
Hepatitis B affects the liver and causes cancer and cirrhosis. Finally, diseases like gonorrhea and chlamydia can result in a condition called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can, amongst other things, cause infertility.
Because of all the health problems they can cause, it is important to take STIs seriously. Testing can help identify and treat the infection early to prevent spreading it to others. Early treatment also avoids long-term consequences like infertility.
If you get tested and learn that you are positive for an STI, tell your partner so they can seek adequate treatment. Finally, if you are pregnant, identifying an STI early on can prevent spreading the infection to your newborn and avoid all the health concerns mentioned above.
When to get tested
Expert opinions regarding how often and when to get tested can vary. It is best to speak with your doctor about STI testing as they can make the best recommendations based on your medical and sexual history.
That being said, certain factors or situations increase your risk of an STI. Therefore, you should get a routine STD screening test if you:
- Have unprotected sex (oral, vaginal, or anal)
- Have a new sex partner
- Have more than one sex partner
- Have a partner with an STI
- Have a history of STIs
- Are a man having sex with other men
- Have sex while using drugs or alcohol
- Exchange sex for drugs or money
- Share needles for drugs, tattooing, or piercing
You should also get tested if you experience any signs or symptoms related to an STI. Those include:
- Abnormal vaginal or penile discharge
- Pain when peeing
- Having to pee a lot
- Itching, burning, swelling, sores, or bumps on or around your genitals
- Painful intercourse
- Lower abdominal pain
- Swollen lymph nodes, especially if near the groin
- Flu-like symptoms, like body aches, fever, and fatigue
Know that you may not have any symptoms even if you have an STI. Therefore, the lack of symptoms should not be a reason to avoid testing, especially if your situation puts you at higher risk for STIs.
How to get tested
Go to your healthcare provider if you need to get tested. They will recommend specific screening tests based on the information you provide, your symptoms, and their assessment of your current condition.
You may need to provide a urine sample to test for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. You may also need to give a blood sample to test for HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B. Finally, they may take cotton swab samples from your anus, throat, vagina, or penis.
There is also the option to get an at-home test kit if you prefer to convenience and privacy of your own home. The advantages of these home tests include discretion, a comfortable testing environment, and the possibility to test for multiple STDs/STIs at once. It goes without saying that if you test positive, you must make an appointment with your healthcare provider to receive treatment.