With many of the most common STIs within the UK remaining asymptomatic and dormant, sometimes for very long periods of time, it is not as easy to know if you have and STI as one might assume. Despite the possibility of presence of a harmful viral, bacterial or parasitic infection, an individual might not notice any of the common symptoms. This is why it is always a good idea to get tested if you had unprotected sex recently and cannot be confident that your partner is completely healthy.

In this article, we will explore the topic of STD testing, while trying to answer the questions such as where and how can you get reliably tested for sexually transmitted infections.

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STI testing in a clinic versus home testing: Pros and cons

For many, getting tested for STIs can be a very stressful and daunting experience, especially since significant social stigma still surrounds the topic of sexually transmitted diseases. With this in mind, it is perfectly understandable why many people find the very possibility of talking to someone about their sexual health a dreadful thought.

But this doesn’t always have to be that uncomfortable. Today, there are various options to make it significantly easier to find out if you might be affected by an STD.

The more traditional route involves making an appointment with your doctor or visiting your local genitourinary medicine clinic (also called GUM clinic) or sexual health clinic.

However, if you would really prefer to avoid talking to a medical professional about this topic in person, you can choose the more discreet option – a home testing STI kit. Advancements in modern medicine and diagnostic technology made it possible for people to self-test very easily, simply by posting a sample to a clinical laboratory and waiting for the results that will be delivered the same way – without any uncomfortable conversations.

STI home testing: How does it work?

At-home STI test kits are designed to be easy and simple to use. Men will simply need to provide a urine sample while women might need to provide a non-invasive vaginal swab too. Taking either of these two samples is easy and completely painless. What’s more, it can be carried out without leaving your home. Once you obtain the samples, all you need to do is post them to the laboratory where they will be tested using most modern diagnostic methods and equipement.

There are multiple types of at-home STI testing kits, designed to be able to detect a range of different STIs. In general, it will take up to 72 hours for the laboratory to get the results, counting from the moment they receive the samples. Most laboratories offer a list of options regarding how you would prefer to be informed about the results of the test.

STI and GUM clinics

GUM clinics, as well as specialized STI clinics usually offer you to book an appointment, but it is not impossible to “drop-in” and ask if it is possible to talk to a doctor right away. The appointment will usually involve a conversation with a medical professional regarding your symptoms (if any) and your recent sexual history, in order to determine the risk.

Depending on the conclusions of the doctor, you might be asked to undergo a physical examination of the genitals or to provide additional samples that will allow the healthcare professionals to carry out test and provide you with information about your sexual health. The testing methods that might be involved include urine and blood samples, urethral or vaginal swabs.

There are several things you might want to keep in mind:

  • Blood samples are used only for the testing for HIV and syphilis
  • Urine tests are used to detect potential presence of chlamydia, trichomoniasis (TV) and gonorrhoea
  • Swab tests are used for diagnosing chlamydia, gonorrhoea, TV and herpes
  • Genital warts are diagnosed through visual examination
  • Not every result will be available the same day – in some cases you will have to wait up for two weeks prior to getting the results
  • The clinic will usually contact the patient directly if the result is positive, recommending follow up appointment to discuss the results and treatment options

How accurate and reliable are STI tests?

As the modern medicine and diagnostic science advance, so do the STI tests. Today, they are more accurate than ever, with 99% certainty in results.

However, this doesn’t make STI tests 100% accurate, no matter where they were taken – in a clinical or home setting.

Despite this side note, if there is any reasonable suspicion that you might be infected, it is of uttermost importance to get tested as soon as possible. In addition to this, negative results might be needed to be confirmed by another testing in some of the clinics. This is because for some infections, it takes certain amount of time before they can be detected – for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, this period, usually called exposure period, lasts for up to two weeks, while for other conditions such as HIV, it can take as much as a whole month before the infection can be detected.

What should I do if I get tested positive?

For all of those who are taking STI tests, this is the worst-case scenario.

However, do not despair – the first thing you need to think about is treatment options. Luckily, today there are numerous options available, with the exact type depending on the nature of the STI with which you have been diagnosed. When properly and timely treated, STIs can be cured or, in case of viral STIs, successfully managed, so you can continue your life as usual.

If you get tested positive, it is important to contact your previous sexual partners as soon as possible and let them know that they should get tested too. In this way, risk of spreading the infection will be minimized. Some GUM and STI clinics offer to do this on your behalf.