Is There One STD Test That Can Detect All STDs?

The Truth About STD Screenings

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You may assume that, when you go to the doctor, your Pap smear does it all. But the reality is that no single STD test can give you a full and accurate picture of your sexual health.

Common Misconceptions About STD Screening

Incorrect assumptions about specific STD tests being more comprehensive than they are are common, so don't feel silly if you've believed some of the following yourself. Some of the most common misconceptions about STD testing are:

Getting a Pap smear is the same as getting screened 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). The fact is, if you haven't been asking your doctor for STD screening, it's possible that all she's been doing during your exam is a Pap smear. 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 can tell you if you have HIV. VDRL is only a test for syphilis, not for all viral STDs.

An HIV test is all someone needs to find out if they have an STD. HIV tests only look for HIV. And 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, it means you'll be fine after a course of antibiotics, and that you don't have other STDs.

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.

Why You Need To Take Charge of Your Sexual Health

These individual assumptions are all problematic, but they reflect an underlying issue that is even more unhelpful. People expect that their doctors will know how to test them appropriately and do so without them asking. But that's not true. Not only are many doctors unaware of the range of STD testing options out there, but even those who are aware may not routinely test their patients for the full range of STDs unless the patient requests such comprehensive testing.

While there are some good reasons for not comprehensively STD testing the entire sexually active population, doing so without active acknowledgement of the facts contributes to a culture where many people are uninformed about their health status without realizing it. Such false beliefs about infection status can lead to poor sexual decision making.

The best thing you can do is approach your doctor with a list of specific diseases you would like to be screened for. Or, 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 in.

Conversely, 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 asks for the tests you want. 

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