If you come in contact with another person’s genitals in any way, it’s important to get regularly tested for a sexually transmitted infection (STI) – which is commonly known as a sexually transmitted disease. Not only can an STI be uncomfortable in the short-term, but in the long-term, because if left untreated STIs can cause serious complications like infertility, cancer, and potentially death. It is also important to realize that this advice holds true regardless if you are sexually active with men, women, or both. In addition, while there are some ways to minimize your personal risk, no method of protection (other than 100% abstinence) is completely foolproof. One of the most important things is to have a full panel STI taken to ensure you aren’t leaving anything untreated.
In fact, every year over 20 million new people in the U.S. are diagnosed with an STI and often these infections can present no (or very mild) symptoms. And if you want to avoid being one of the 20,000 people every year who are told they’re infertile due to STI complications, then it’s important to include STI panel testing as part of your regular health maintenance. The best form of testing is an STI panel which screens for a wide variety of infections.
Today, we’re going to review what these STI panels are, why they’re important, how they work, and what they test for. Regardless of your sexual activity, adding an STI panel into your routine health exams is an excellent way to take control of your overall health. Let’s dive in!
What Is An STI?
Before we discuss the testing for an STI, we need to understand what an STI is.
You might have heard the phrase sexually transmitted disease (STD), but there’s actually a distinct difference between an STD and an STI.
An STI is the actual process of getting infected from a bacteria, virus, or parasite which enters the body through sexual activity or contact.
An STD is the disease which results from the infection.
The reason why this makes a difference is because some STIs don’t present themselves with symptoms, or the symptoms may be delayed. Meaning you may not know if you have an STI until the resulting STD occurs, and this may increase the risk of complications in the future.
Who Should Be Tested For A STI?
All adults who are sexually active should seriously consider getting a regular STI panel. However you should particularly consider getting a STI panel if the following situations have occurred recently:
- You’re beginning a new relationship with someone
- You don’t use protection during intercourse (including condoms or other barrier methods)
- You suspect your partner has cheated on you
- You have multiple partners
Additionally, if you experience any of the following symptoms it’s strongly advised you consider an STI panel:
- Going to the bathroom more frequently
- Burning during urination
- Discharge from the vagina or penis
- Itching or irritation of the vagina or penis
- Abdominal pain (particularly in the lower abdomen)
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Painful testicles
What Does An STI Panel Test For?
The objective of an STI panel is to provide testing for multiple different sexually transmitted infections at once. Almost all panels will include testing for the following infections:
- Chlamydia – a bacterial infection that can affect the genitals, rectum, or throat.
- Gonorrhea – a bacterial infection that can affect the genitals, rectum, or throat.
- Syphilis – a bacterial infection that can cause serious long-term health problems if left untreated.
- Herpes – a viral infection that can cause painful sores or blisters around the mouth or genitals.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV) – a viral infection that can cause genital warts and increase the risk of certain cancers.
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) – a viral infection that attacks the immune system and can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
- Hepatitis B and C – viral infections that can cause inflammation of the liver and lead to serious long-term health problems.
- Trichomoniasis – a one-celled protozoan that infects the urethra and can go unnoticed due to lack of symptoms.
How Does A Full Panel STI Work?
A full panel STI will almost always include these following methods for testing for the presence of an STI. They include:
A technician will draw your blood to obtain a sample to test for:
This test requires the patient to urinate into a cup to provide a sample for testing. Often the tests will screen for:
It’s important to note that sometimes a blood and urine test isn’t enough to provide the most accurate results. This is particularly true if you’ve been too recently exposed for the STI to appear within the blood test.
This is why in an STI panel you’ll also see additional forms of testing which include:
This is where a physician will use a cervical, vaginal, urethral, or anal swab to check for the presence of STIs.
For individuals with a vagina, your physician will use a cotton swab to take a vaginal and cervical sample to run for testing.
Sometimes for more precise testing, a swab will be inserted into the urethra for both males and females to test for STIs.
Physical Examination Tests
A physician can also diagnose an STI with a physical examination (for example, herpes and genital warts can be visible) in combination with your STI panel.
The physician will look for any bumps, sores, or other potential signs of an STI.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Does An STI Panel Take?
A full panel STI will generally take between 20-30 minutes for collecting all necessary samples. As mentioned in the article above, this can include blood, urine, and swab samples.
Normally the results of the STI panel will be completed within 1-5 business days.
Are STI Panels And STD Panels The Same?
Testing for an STD and an STI are essentially the same thing. The main difference between the two is that an STI is the actual process of infection which could result in zero symptoms for the patient, whereas an STD actually has symptoms.
Essentially an STI leads to an STD.
What Is The Most Common STI?
Technically, HPV (human papillomavirus) is the most common STI and affects over 80 million people. In many cases – HPV may resolve on its own with no symptoms. However, HPV has been known to cause health problems including cervical cancer. It’s widely accepted that testing for HPV is a critical step to maintaining a high quality of health.