Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/26/2019
Sometimes there’s an itch you shouldn’t scratch. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), are alarmingly common.
According to the CDC, one in every five people in the United States has a sexually transmitted infection, with nearly 68 million infections recorded in 2018 alone.
If you’re sexually active, it’s important to get tested for STDs on a frequent basis. Getting tested not only provides peace of mind — it’s also important for protecting you and your sexual partners from the negative health effects that many STDs can have.
Getting tested for STDs is usually a simple process you can do through your primary care provider or at a local health clinic. Results are typically fast, although some diseases may take longer to test for than others.
Below, we’ve explained how the STD testing process works, as well as how long it usually takes to get the results of your STD test from your healthcare provider.
We’ve also discussed how you can get tested, either through your healthcare provider, at a local clinic or using an online STD testing service.
Getting tested for STDs is usually a quick, simple and painless process. If you’re concerned that you might have an STD, the best way to arrange an STD test is to get in touch with your primary care provider and let them know you’d like to be tested.
There’s no need to feel embarrassed when asking for an STD test. Healthcare professionals are used to administering STD tests, and getting tested on a regular basis is part of being a healthy, sexually active adult — not something that you should ever feel ashamed of.
Depending on your symptoms, your healthcare provider may request that you complete one or several of the following tests:
Physical exam. Before administering other tests, your healthcare provider may look at the affected area to check for visible sores, rashes or other signs of infection.
Blood test. For this test, a nurse or doctor will draw blood from your arm using a needle, or from a finger prick. Blood testing is used to detect a range of STDs, including hepatitis A, B and C, herpes, syphilis and HIV.
Fluid sample. If you have open sores, your healthcare provider may take a sample from the sores to test for STDs.
Cheek swab. In some cases, such as to test for HIV, your healthcare provider may rub a swab inside your cheek.
Genital swab. For some STD tests, your healthcare provider may use a swab to collect cells or discharge from your vagina, cervix, urethra or anus. For men, a sample may be collected from the penis.
Before getting tested, your healthcare provider may ask you questions about your symptoms, if you’ve ever had an STD before, the type of sexual contact you’ve had recently and your typical use of protection, such as condoms.
It’s important to provide complete, accurate information to your healthcare provider. Being open and honest means that your healthcare provider has the information they need to give a helpful, accurate diagnosis and make sure that you get the most appropriate treatment.
The amount of time you’ll need to wait to get your STD test results depends on several factors, including the diseases for which you’re being tested, the type of testing method that’s used and where the test is carried out (for example, on-site or in an off-site lab).
You can find the typical amount of time required to receive the results for several different STD tests below:
Several different tests are used to detect HIV, including lab testing, the rapid antibody screening test, the rapid antigen/antibody test and a self-test that uses oral fluid.
Lab testing requires blood to be drawn from your vein. Your blood is then analyzed in a lab to detect either the genetic material of the virus, or specific HIV antigens and antibodies.
It usually takes several days to receive the results from an HIV lab test.
If you’re tested for HIV with a rapid antibody screening test, or with a rapid antigen/antibody test, your results will typically be ready in under 30 minutes.
If you test yourself for HIV using an oral fluid antibody self-test such as the OraQuick® In-Home HIV Test, you’ll receive results within 20 minutes.
Right now, there are no tests that can accurately detect HIV immediately after infection. If you’re worried that you may have been exposed to HIV, it’s important to seek medical help immediately and, if possible, use post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
In order to undergo testing for HIV, you’ll need to wait for the “window period” (the period after potential HIV exposure in which tests can’t detect infection) to pass.
The window period varies depending on the type of HIV test:
A nucleic acid test (NAT) can typically detect HIV infection approximately 10 to 33 days after exposure.
An antigen/antibody test can typically detect HIV infection 18 to 45 days after exposure with blood drawn from a vein, or 18 to 90 days after exposure to detect HIV using blood drawn from a finger prick.
An antibody test, such as most home self-tests and rapid tests, can typically detect HIV infection 23 to 90 days after exposure.
Several methods are used to test for chlamydia, including examining urine samples and vaginal cells or fluid. For men, cell testing is often performed using a sample from the urethra.
The amount of time required for lab testing can vary based on the location of the lab, processing time and other factors.
Most of the time, you’ll receive your results from chlamydia testing within three to 10 days of providing a sample.
As part of a gonorrhea test, your healthcare provider will take a sample from your cervix, mouth or rectum.
For men, a sample may be taken from the opening of the urethra.
A gonorrhea test is often performed at the same time as a chlamydia test, as the two infections can produce similar symptoms.
Depending on the type of testing that’s performed and the lab that performs the analysis, results are usually provided within one to five days.
Testing for HPV involves taking a sample of cells from the outside of your cervix and then analyzing them to check for the presence of HPV. Testing for HPV is recommended for women 30 and older.
It usually takes between one and three weeks to receive your HPV test results. This type of test is often performed at the same time as a Pap test.
Most syphilis tests are blood tests, although some syphilis testing is done using spinal fluid.
It can take several weeks for syphilis antibodies to develop following infection, meaning you may need to wait for a certain period of time before taking a syphilis test.
Depending on the type of testing performed and the lab that analyzes the test, it may take three to 10 days to receive your results from a syphilis test.
As part of a trichomoniasis test, your healthcare provider will use a swab or small brush to take a sample of cells from your vagina. For men, a sample is taken from the urethra.
Depending on the method used to analyze your cell sample, it may take between 24 hours and seven days to receive your trichomoniasis test results.
Several methods are used to test for the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1 or HSV-2), including swab testing, blood testing and, when herpes may have infected the brain or spinal cord, a procedure referred to as a lumbar puncture (also called a spinal tap).
Depending on the method used to detect herpes, it may take 24 hours to three or more days to receive your results.
Getting tested for STDs is a simple process. Almost all mid-sized and large cities offer options for free or low-cost STD testing, with convenient online testing options also available for many common sexually transmitted diseases.
You can get tested by:
Talking to your healthcare provider. Your primary care provider will be able to provide testing for most STDs. Many health insurance policies either provide free STD testing or offer tests at a significantly reduced price.
Visiting your local urgent care center. Many urgent care centers offer testing for most STDs. You can search for free, fast and confidential testing locations in your area using the CDC’s GetTested tool.
Visiting your local pharmacy. Many pharmacies can schedule testing for some STDs, or provide an at-home test that you can return to the pharmacy or mail directly to the lab for analysis.
Contacting Planned Parenthood. Many Planned Parenthood centers offer STD testing and treatment.
Using an at-home/online test. Several companies provide at-home STD tests that you can order online. Some tests provide instant results, while others may need to be mailed to a lab for analysis.
Sexually transmitted diseases are common. If you’re concerned that you may have an STD, it’s important to get tested and, if necessary, treated.
You can get an STD test by talking to a healthcare provider or visiting an urgent care center in your area. It’s also possible to test for some STDs at home.
Depending on the specific type of STD test you need, it may take anywhere from a few minutes to several days to receive your results back from the doctor or lab.
Worried about your sexual health? Read more about STI testing and learn why it’s so important to get tested if you have concerns, as well as how you can communicate with your partner about testing and your results.
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