Is There One STD Test That Can Detect All STDs?

The Truth About STD Screenings

Cervical cancer smear test UK
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Are you getting the STD screening tests recommended by the CDC for sexually-active people in your category? You may assume that if blood tests were drawn or a Pap smear was done at a yearly check-up that you are covered. Unfortunately, most doctors don't do  STD testing routinely part of a yearly check-up. In fact, many patients find that they have to ask their doctors for STD tests.Learn what you need to do to ensure you are properly screened.

What STD Tests Do You Need?

There is no single STD test that can give you a full and accurate picture of your sexual health. Sexually active individuals should be regularly screened for at least chlamydiagonorrhea, and cervical cancer, and the CDC recommends universal HIV testing. Check the CDC's STD screening recommendations to see which apply to you.  

When screening doesn't occur, it can make it very easy for asymptomatic diseases to spread out of control. If doctors were more proactive about routine screening, the "hidden epidemic" might be better in hand.

Barriers to Regular STD Testing

The shame and stigma associated with STDs make it difficult for many people to ask their doctors for testing. This may be particularly true for older patients and patients who have long-standing relationships with their physicians. Many doctors are just as uncomfortable talking about safe sex and STDs as their patients, and this discomfort can make it difficult for them to discuss the tests that need to be performed.

Another problem is that many doctors, particularly those in private practice, may not think that their patient population is at risk of acquiring an STD. However, there is no sexually active population at such low risk for chlamydia and other STDs that regular screening would not be a benefit.

There are some places that are relatively good about conforming to STD screening guidelines, such as Planned Parenthood, and it may be easier for some people to go there than to ask their regular physician for tests.

Still, there's no reason not to make STD testing part of your annual exam. The tests may well be covered by your insurance, and making them part of your annual visit will ensure that they get done on a proper schedule.

Common Misconceptions About STD Screening

Don't feel silly if you believe some of the incorrect assumptions about specific STD tests. Here are the facts about different kinds of testing for STDs:

  • Many women assume that the Pap smear they get during their annual exam is also an STD test. It's not (although it may include an HPV test). Many gynecologists do not routinely screen their patients for STDs, particularly if a woman is over 24. This means that many women remain unaware of asymptomatic STD infections for years.
  • A VDRL test is only a test for syphilis, not for viral STDs. It won't detect HIV, HPV, herpes, or hepatitis B. It stands for venereal disease research laboratory rather than referring to a virus. In fact, syphilis is caused by a bacteria, not a virus.
  • An HIV test only looks for HIV. Doctors will not always follow up even a positive test result with routine STD screening.
  • If a doctor tells you that you have gonorrhea or chlamydia, don't assume you'll be fine after a course of antibiotics. Some doctors and clinics routinely screen young people for these two, extremely common, bacterial STDs, but do not test them for anything else. Unfortunately, when patients hear they have gonorrhea or chlamydia and that it can be treated, they often assume that it also means they are free and clear of any other STDs. That isn't necessarily the case and, without additional tests, other STDs can remain undetected.

    Take Charge of Your Sexual Health

    People expect that their doctors will know how to test them appropriately and do so without them asking. But not all doctors know or follow the guidelines. The best thing you can do is approach your doctor with a list of specific diseases you would like to be screened for. Alternatively, say that you wish to be comprehensively tested and ask what that means to your doctor. Then, if the doctor's definition of "comprehensive" doesn't include a disease you are concerned about (such as herpes), that test can be added.

    If you have been tested for STDs and received a positive or negative result from your doctor, it's important for you to ask exactly what you were tested for.

    It may turn out you were only screened for HIV or chlamydia. In short, if you want to know whether you are free of STDs, you should ask for the tests you want.

    A Word From Verywell

    If you are sexually active, you need to protect your health by overcoming any discomfort and asking about regular STD screening. Learn which tests are recommended for your age, gender, and lifestyle. Check your medical paperwork or electronic medical record and ask your doctor for the tests you need or to explain test results.

    Sources:

    2015 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines: Screening Recommendations and Considerations Referenced in Treatment Guidelines and Original Sources. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/screening-recommendations.htm.

    Chlamydia Screening Among Sexually Active Young Female Enrollees of Health Plans—United States, 2000--2007. MMWR Weekly April 17, 2009 / 58(14);362-365

    Goyal MK, Witt R, Hayes KL, Zaoutis TE, Gerber JS. Clinician Adherence to Recommendations for Screening of Adolescents for Sexual Activity and Sexually Transmitted Infection/Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The Journal of Pediatrics. 2014;165(2):343-347. doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2014.04.009.

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