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Make STI testing part of your health care routine

Ahem. This doesn't need to be awkward. Sexual health is a huge part of your overall wellness, and what goes on “down there” impacts your physical, mental, emotional and social well-being. That's why it's so important to make sure everything's in order.

Just like an annual wellness check with your primary provider, anyone who is sexually active should get an annual test for sexually transmitted infections. And if you have more than one partner, you should be tested more often.

What is an STI?

Sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, are caused by bacteria, parasites or viruses that are passed from one person to another through oral, anal or vaginal sex. They can also be shared through other types of intimate contact. STIs are also referred to as sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs.

Here are a few facts you should know about STIs:

  • STIs happen to people of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life.
  • According to the CDC, about one in five people in the U.S. have an STI.
  • In the U.S., there are around 20 million new cases of STIs each year, about half of which are in young people 15 to 24 years of age.
  • Women often have more serious health problems from STIs than men. 
  • Many cases of STIs go undiagnosed and untreated.

STIs can lead to reproductive health problems, pregnancy and birth complications, cancer and the spread of infection.

What's the difference between STD and STI?

The acronyms might seem interchangable, but there is a distinction between STDs and STIs.

  • STI stands for sexually transmitted infection; STD is short for sexually transmitted disease.  
  • Sexually transmitted infections that enter the body lead to sexually transmitted diseases, such as HPV (Human Papillomavirus), chlamydia, genital herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis  and HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus).
  • When you have an STI, you probably won't know it because they often don't have symptoms.

The only way to be sure you have an STI (and to stop the infection from morphing into an STD) is to get tested by a medical provider.

Healthsplaining aside, there has been a shift in how sexually transmitted infections and diseases are referred to. The American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) considers the term STI to be a more accurate way to refer to sexually transmitted viruses. It also addresses the stigma attached to the term STD — a stigma that often keeps people from being tested and diagnosed.

How do you get tested for an STI?

  • Pelvic and physical exam to look for signs of infection, such as warts, rashes or discharge.
  • Blood draw
  • Urine test
  • Swab sample taken from an infected place on your body. 

    Indy Tip!

    Home tests for STIs might seem convenient, but their accuracy can vary a lot depending on the type of sample collected and the test method. Don't leave your sexual health to chance. The best way to be sure you have an STI is to get tested and examined by a medical provider. Find an Indigo Health near you.

Why don't STIs have symptoms?

You might ask, “Why get tested if I'm feeling fine?” Well, because STIs can be sneaky. Many can go undetected because there are no obvious signs of infection. You may not know you have an STI until it spreads or leads to serious side effects. According to the CDC, 24,000 women become infertile each year because of an undiagnosed STI.

Getting tested is the only way to know if you have an STI (or not). The sooner you do, the better — for you and your sexual partners.

When should I get tested for an STI?

The type of STI testing you need, and how often you need to be tested, may vary depending on your age and risk factors. Here are some general testing guidelines:

  • If you are sexually active, you should be tested at least once a year.
  • If you have more than one partner, you should be tested every 3 to 6 months.
  • If you are pregnant, you should be tested for syphilis, HIV and hepatitis B; women with at-risk pregnancies should also be tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea.
  • If you think you've been exposed to an STI, you should be tested based on a specific testing window.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a more detailed overview of STI testing recommendations for women and men.

Talk with your medical provider about which STI test is right for you. When caught early, many STIs can be cured or treated with medication. And for those that aren't curable, you have options to help manage your symptoms, lead a normal life and prevent the spread of infection.

Indy Tip!

Share the love. It's not only important for you to get tested. Encourage your partners to do the same.

How are STI's treated?

Some STIs can be cured. For those that cannot be cured, medications are available to manage symptoms.

At Indigo Health, we can test for and treat (when possible) the following STIs:

Human papillomavirus. HPV is the most common STI in the United States. HPV vaccines are recommended for everyone under age 27 to protect against new infections. There is no cure for an existing HPV infection, which may be symptom-free or may cause genital warts or cancer. Warts can be treated with prescription medication.

Test method: Sample collected during a pelvic examine.

Chlamydia. Chlamydia is very common and typically does not show symptoms. If left untreated, it can cause reproductive problems and make it difficult to get pregnant. Chlamydia is easily treatable and curable with antibiotics.

Testing method: Swab or urine test.

Genital Herpes. The herpes virus can cause raw blisters and painful sores or present no symptoms at all. There is no cure, but antiviral medications can reduce symptoms, shorten outbreaks and decrease the likelihood of transmission.

Testing method: Sore or blister swab.

Gonorrhea. This bacterial infection can cause painful urination and abnormal discharge and other symptoms. Some people experience no symptoms. While it has developed resistance to many antibiotics, gonorrhea can be cured with the right combo of medication. If untreated, it can increase your risk of other STIs and cause serious health problems in women and men.

Testing method: Swab or urine test.

Hepatitis C. Like many infections, hepatitis C lives in the blood and bodily fluids and can be transmitted through sexual activity.

Testing method: Blood test.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). HIV is the infection that causes AIDS. Your chances of getting HIV are higher if you have an STI. Treatments are available for HIV, but there is no cure. Early detection and education are important to help manage the disease.

Testing method: Blood draw.

Syphilis.  Syphilis may begin with a painless sore and progress to include fever, rash, swollen glands, sore throat and headaches. This bacterial infection can be cured with the right antibiotics and is easiest to treat in its earliest stages.

Testing method: Blood sample.

Trichomoniasis. This very common STI is caused by a parasite and can be cured with antibiotics. Symptoms of the disease can vary, although most people aren't aware they are infected. If left untreated, the infection can spread to other organs and may affect fertility in men and cause pregnancy complications.

Testing method: Swab or urine test.

STI testing at Indigo Health is safe, friendly and stigma free

Symptom-free or not, don't let an STI come between you and a healthy, safe and satisfying sex life.

Indigo Health, our friendly providers offer confidential screenings and on-site lab services to test for a variety of sexually transmitted infections, so you can feel assured about your health and your partner's well-being. We're here every day from 8 am to 8 pm, including holidays.

If you think you've been exposed to an STI and prefer to talk to someone from the comfort, convenience and privacy of home, Indigo Online Care is a great option. Our online providers are available to discuss your exposure and treatment options and will recommend in-person evaluation and testing, if needed. They can also prescribe or refill birth control and address other sexual health issues.

A better way to get better.

Health care that’s friendly, easy, and centered around you.

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