If You Think You Have an STI

Diagnosing and treating a sexually transmitted infection (STI) early is important. This limits the problems it can cause and helps prevent its spread to others. An STI is also known as a sexually transmitted disease (STD). If you think you may have an STI, get tested and treated right away. Ask your partner to be tested, too. Then don't have sex until you’ve finished treatment and your healthcare provider says it’s OK.

Healthcare provider drawing blood from woman's arm.
Get tested right away if you think you have an STI.

Common STI symptoms

Be alert to any changes in your body and your partner's body. Symptoms of an STI may appear in or near the vagina, penis, rectum, mouth, or throat. They may include:

  • Abnormal discharge

  • Lumps, bumps, or rashes

  • Sores that may be painful, itchy, or painless

  • Burning feeling when you pee

  • Pain in the pelvis, belly (abdomen), or rectum

  • Bleeding from the rectum

Diagnosing STIs

Your healthcare provider will take a health history and examine you. You'll be asked about your sex habits. You may also be asked about drug use. Give honest answers. Your provider will then check your body for signs of STIs. You may also need 1 or more of these tests:

  • Fluid may be swabbed from sores. Samples also may be taken from the vagina, penis, mouth, or rectum. The samples are then tested for STIs.

  • Blood or urine samples may be taken. They're checked for viruses or bacteria that cause STIs.

  • For women, cells from the cervix are checked for signs of cancer and the genital wart virus (HPV or human papillomavirus). This is called a Pap smear, and is often now done along with HPV testing. If cell changes are found, or a high-risk type of HPV is found, a magnifying scope may be used to take a closer look (colposcopy).

  • In men and women, a Pap smear may be done on the anus. This is to check for HPV-linked cancer or precancer changes. The provider gently swabs cells from the lining of the anus. This sample is then sent to a lab to be checked. If there are any abnormal signs, you may need more testing.

Follow your treatment plan

Treatment depends on the type of STI you have. Common treatments include antibiotics pills, liquids, or shots (injections). Creams and gels can be put on sores or warts caused by certain STIs. Follow the tips below:

  • Get new treatment for each new STI.

  • Don’t use old medicine, even for the same STI. Use medicines as directed.

  • Don’t share medicine unless instructed to do so by your healthcare provider or clinic.

Talk to your partner

If you have an STI, it’s your duty to tell all your recent sex partners so they can be tested and treated. This is one important way to prevent the disease from being spread. Telling a partner that you have an STI can be hard. You may be embarrassed, angry, or afraid. It’s often unclear who had the STI first. So try not to place blame. Your healthcare provider may have some advice on how to start.

Prevent future problems

Even after you’ve been treated, you can still be infected again. This is a common problem. It can happen if a partner passes the STI back to you. To prevent this, any partners you have must be tested. They may also need treatment. After treatment, go to any scheduled follow-up visits. Then prevent future problems by practicing safer sex. Limit your number of partners. And always use a latex condom.

Remember that HIV is also an STI. If you have 1 type of STI you can get others, including HIV. Ask your healthcare provider if you should take medicine to prevent getting HIV. This can be taken before sex (PREP or pre-exposure prophylaxis). Or it can be taken within 72 hours after unsafe sex (PEP or post-exposure prophylaxis).

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.