How Do Doctors Test for STDs?

How does a doctor test to see if you have STDs?
Perry*

There are different tests for different STDs. The kind of test someone gets depends on the type of STD, symptoms (like sores, discharge, or pain), and the person's medical and sexual history.

STD testing starts with a physical exam. A doctor or nurse practitioner will ask questions about health, including sex, then examine the person's genitals. For girls, this may include a pelvic exam.

Based on what's learned from the interview and exam, the doctor or NP may take one or more of these samples:

  • a blood sample (from either a blood draw or a finger prick)
  • a urine sample
  • a swab of the inside of the mouth
  • a swab from the genitals, such as the urethra in guys or the cervix in girls
  • a swab of any discharge or sores

Sometimes, the sample can be tested right there in the health provider's office. Other times, the sample is sent to a lab and the results come later. It depends on the office and the type of infection doctors are testing for.

STDs can be sneaky. Often there are no signs that a person has one. That's not necessarily a good thing. These "hidden" STDs can still put people at risk for health problems. Anyone who is having sex (or has had sex in the past) needs to get tested.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: July 2011

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