How does an STD Check Work?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 01 October 2019
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The manner in which a sexually transmitted disease (STD) check works depends on the doctor who performs the test and the unique needs of the patient. Often, doctors consider the risk factors a patient faces when deciding which tests to perform in an STD check, unless the patient requests extensive STD testing. Once a doctor and his patient agree on the tests that should be performed, an STD check may involve the drawing of blood, urine testing, or the swabbing of a man’s penis or a woman’s cervix. Physical examinations are often used as part of STD testing as well.

Many women assume that STD checks are performed as a routine part of their yearly gynecological checkups. For example, a woman who has a yearly pap test may assume that her doctor is performing yearly STD checks as well. The fact is, pap tests may reveal signs of some STDs, but the majority of them may go unnoticed despite regular pap tests. Furthermore, doctors may not test for STDs unless their patients are in high-risk groups, such as those who have multiple sex partners. Men may assume that their doctors check for STDs via blood tests, but this not a routine occurrence.


An individual who wants a thorough STD check usually has to request one from his doctor. In such a case, he may share details of his sex life to help his doctor determine which forms of testing are appropriate. For example, a doctor may recommend different testing for a man who is in a long-term monogamous relationship versus a man who has a new sexual partner or has sex with multiple partners. The frequency with which testing is recommended may also depend on the unique details of a person’s sex life.

Once a person has decided on the type of STD check he wants, he may have to provide various types of laboratory samples for his doctor to test. Doctors may use urine tests to check for the presence of gonorrhea or chlamydia, for example. Alternatively, doctors may send swabs of the inside of the penis or cervix to a lab to check for these STDs. Blood tests are usually used to check for syphilis, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and hepatitis. Since a blood test can provide a false negative early in the infection with these diseases, repeat testing may be required.

Some types of STDs aren’t revealed via blood or urine testing. Checks for genital herpes may include analyzing tissue samples or cultures of blister eruptions and a physical examination of a patient with a suspicious bump or sore. Human papillomavirus (HPV) screening usually involves a pap test to check for cervical cancer in women. No STD check currently exists for HPV in men.


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