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How Do Doctors Test for STDs?

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

There are different tests for different sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The kind of test a person gets will depend on the type of STD, symptoms (like sores, discharge, or pain), and his or her medical and sexual history.

To get this history, a doctor or nurse practitioner (NP) will ask about things like how many partners the person has had. After that, the doctor or NP will examine the person's genitals. For girls who have symptoms of STDs, this might include a pelvic exam. Girls who do not have symptoms and are just getting screened for STDs as part of a routine checkup probably won't need 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) should get tested.

*Names have been changed to protect user privacy.

Date reviewed: January 2017

Note: All information on TeensHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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