Rates of STDs are on the rise. Cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea were at the highest number ever reported in 2016. Between 2015 and 2016, cases of syphilis increased by 35% among women, 15% among men, and 28% in newborns who got it from their mothers.
STD testing is essential for protecting your health, so it’s important to know who should be tested. The team at Rose City Urgent Care & Family Practice in the area of Portland, Oregon, offer these guidelines.
Will you know you have an STD?
Many patients figure symptoms will let them know when they have an STD, but that’s not always the case. Symptoms often don’t appear in the early stages of the disease, which means you won’t know you have an active STD.
Even when you don’t have symptoms, you can still pass the STD to your partner during sexual contact — all types of sexual contact whether oral, anal, or vaginal.
Symptoms caused by STDs can be tricky to recognize. They can take weeks or months to appear, they may come and go, and they tend to mimic symptoms of other health problems.
The first sign of syphilis, for example, develops several weeks after getting the disease. You’ll develop one, or maybe a few, small sores. But since they’re painless, heal in a few weeks, and may occur where they’re not visible, they’re easy to miss.
Although each type of STD has unique symptoms, here’s a list of the most common problems you may develop:
- Burning during urination
- Discharge from the vagina or penis
- Flu-like symptoms (body aches, fever, feeling tired, swollen glands)
- Pain, itching, irritation and/or swelling in the vagina, vulva, penis, or anus
- Sores or bumps on and around your thighs, genitals, or buttocks
What are the risks of an untreated STD?
Not passing STDs to a partner is an important reason to get tested. Moreover, you also need STD screening to prevent other health risks that develop when your STD goes untreated.
The danger of untreated HIV is well known, but other types of STDs also cause serious complications. For example, several types of STDs increase your chance of acquiring an HIV infection if they’re not treated.
Here are a few other examples of complications arising from untreated STDs:
Untreated gonorrhea can result in pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, tubal pregnancy, and prostate inflammation.
Pregnant women can spread chlamydia to their child during delivery, resulting in pneumonia or an eye infection in their newborn baby.
An estimated 80% of pregnant women with untreated syphilis pass the infection to their baby. It also causes stillbirth or death of a newborn in 40% of cases. Untreated syphilis can stay dormant for 10-30 years before becoming active and then it causes damage to your brain, nerves, heart, liver, and bones.
Who should be tested for STDs?
The short answer is that everyone who’s sexually active should be tested for STDs; but there are some guidelines to follow:
Chlamydia and gonorrhea
All sexually active women 24 years and younger, as well as older women at a higher risk, should be screened.
Adolescents and adults at an increased risk for syphilis should be screened.
Risk factors for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis include:
- New sex partner
- Multiple partners
- Having sex without a condom
- History of STDs
Everyone aged 13 to 65 who have had sexual contact should be tested at least once. Yearly screening is recommended if you’re at a higher risk. Patients with an increased risk include sexually active gay and bisexual men and those who had unprotected sexual contact with more than one partner or an unknown partner.
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV infections are quite common, but they usually go away without causing any health problems. As a result, routine HPV tests aren’t recommended because they would produce positive results even when there isn’t cause for concern.
HPV, which causes cervical cancer, is detected through a routine Pap test, with a follow-up HPV test if your Pap shows abnormal results.
Should pregnant women get STD testing?
Yes, pregnant women should be tested for STDs as soon as they know they’re pregnant or even better, during preconception counseling before they get pregnant. STDs can have a devastating impact on the health of the mother and baby, which is why STD testing is part of routine prenatal care.
If you’re not sure whether you should get tested, talk with your doctor at Rose City Urgent Care & Family Practice. They can assess your risk based on your age, sexual activity, and overall health, then let you know whether you should consider STD testing.