Millions of new sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) occur each year in the United States, but many STDs don’t present symptoms. That means thousands — and possibly millions — of people with STDs go without treatment each year.
Because many STDs are symptomless, it can be tough to know if you have an STD. Dr. Mark J. Kelly explains STD testing, who should get tested for what, and symptoms to look out for.
Who should get tested for STDs?
If you’re sexually active, a good rule of thumb is to get tested annually for the major STDs, even if you’ve had the same partner for a while. If you frequently switch sexual partners or have multiple partners at once, it’s even more critical that you get tested at least annually.
What STD tests should I get?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the following STD testing guidelines:
- Adults and adolescents ages 13-64 should be tested at least once for HIV.
- Sexually active women under 25 should get tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia annually. Women 25 and older who have new or multiple sex partners or a partner with an STD should also be tested yearly for gonorrhea and chlamydia.
- Pregnant women should get tested for syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis B early in their pregnancies. At-risk pregnant women should add chlamydia and gonorrhea testing to that list. Repeat testing may be needed to protect the health of the mother and baby.
- Sexually active gay and bisexual men should get tested at least once a year for syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea (every 3-6 months for those with multiple or anonymous partners). As for HIV, all members of this group may benefit from more frequent testing (every 3-6 months).
- Anyone having unsafe sex or sharing equipment used to inject drugs should get tested for HIV at least once annually.
Those guidelines generally serve all populations well, but it’s never a bad idea to get tested more often, especially if you suspect you might have an STD.
STD symptoms to look out for
Though the majority of STDs don’t cause symptoms — or only cause symptoms so mild that you don’t realize you have an infection — you should be on the lookout for these eight symptoms if you’re sexually active:
- Bumps, sores, or warts on or around your genitals
- Swelling and redness on or around your genitals
- Painful urination
- Strange or discolored discharge
- Unexplained aches, pains, chills, or fever
- Itchy feeling on or around your genitals
- Cloudy or bloody urine
- In women, heavier menstruation than normal or bleeding between cycles
If you experience any of these, or other unusual and uncomfortable symptoms, contact your doctor right away for an evaluation.
Risks of untreated STDs
Like any disease or infection, a sexually transmitted disease gets worse if left untreated. If you don’t seek medical care for your STD, you put yourself and others at risk for long-term complications. If you’re on the fence about seeking treatment, consider these risks of untreated STDs:
Risk of infecting others: This is clearly a critical risk you should be aware of. Even if you practice safe sex and wear condoms, there’s no guarantee that you won’t pass your infection to your partner.
Increasing your risk of HIV: An STD causes your genital area to become inflamed, which elicits a response from your immune system and, in a counterintuitive way, this actually increases your risk of contracting HIV. Additionally, some STDs leave open sores on your body, which also increases your risk of contracting the virus.
Other complications: Any untreated disease puts you at risk for related complications. With an STD, that might mean infertility, a complicated pregnancy, cancer, and organ damage.
If you haven’t been tested for STDs in a while or think you may have an STD, call Dr. Kelly right away to schedule an appointment or use our online scheduling tool.