A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

STD tests: What do you need and why?

If you get an annual physical exam, never have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and don’t have any symptoms, you must be in the clear. Right?

Not necessarily. Some STDs don’t cause symptoms and patients often have to request to be tested for STDs. If you’re sexually active, have a conversation with your health care provider about your sexual history and what you should be tested for.

Dr. Mary Ocwieja, a Marshfield Clinic family medicine physician, explained which STD tests may be recommended depending on sex, age and risk factors. Some STDs are difficult to screen for, so testing is only recommended if you have symptoms.

Playing it safe with STDs - Who should be tested and how oftenDifferent recommendations for young men and women

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend yearly testing for certain STDs for all sexually active women under age 25 regardless of risk but not to all young men.

Here’s why: Common STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea are more risky for young women because they can cause infertility or health problems for pregnant women and infants.

However, young men should still get tested regularly if they have multiple or new partners, or if they have symptoms of an STD like painful urination, discharge, genital lesions or sores.

Download this chart for specific testing recommendations.

Testing during pregnancy protects mother and baby

Pregnant women are tested for several STDs regardless of their risk.

“STDs can cause serious health complications for the mother and baby,” Ocwieja said.

Infections can be treated during pregnancy or preventive measures can reduce the risk of passing the infection to the baby.

More testing recommended for people at risk

Some people including men and women with new or multiple sexual partners and men who have sex with men are at greater risk for certain STDs, so regular testing is recommended.

Other infections, including Hepatitis B and C and HIV can be transmitted sexually as well as when blood from a person who is infected enters the body of someone who is not infected. People who received donated organs or had blood transfusions before 1987, use injection drugs or had a needle stick injury are encouraged to talk to their health care provider about testing regardless of their sexual history.

Get tested after unprotected sex with a new partner

“It’s best to talk about your STD status before becoming sexually active with a new partner,” Ocwieja said. “If you didn’t have the talk, get tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea within a month after unprotected sex and for HIV after 3-6 months.”

Some public health departments will contact partners about testing for certain infections that must be reported. Otherwise, you should tell current and past partners they may have been exposed to an STD.

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