For one reason or another you have decided that you need to have an STI check. This maybe because you have had unprotected sex as a one night stand or during a relationship but whatever your reason you are making the right decision. The idea of going to a GUM/Family planning clinic can be a daunting one if you don’t know what to expect. This article is going to lay out what you should expect if you go to have a test.
What to do before you go?
One of the most important things to do is to find out where your local clinic is and what time you can go. This may seem like an obvious point but some clinics will run different clinics for different age groups and genders and you don’t want to end up at the wrong type of clinic. You should also find out whether you have to make an appointment or whether the clinics will be a drop in one. Some clinics that operate a policy that you are able to give a false name or you are assigned a number when you make an appointment while others won’t so this is also something that you might want to find out.
When you arrive you will have to wait in a waiting room. Some clinics will have separate rooms (and sometimes entrances) for men and women while others will be mixed. You will be called by a healthcare professional (usually a doctor or nurse) They may ask you some potentially embarrassing questions, it is important that you answer these as accurately as you can as it will help the professional decide what tests you may need. While being open with someone you haven't met before can be difficult it is also important to remember that they have probably heard it all before!
Questions that you might expect to be asked may include
- When you last had sex - What type of sex you had (e.g. vaginal, oral or anal) - Whether it was protected or unprotected sex - Any symptoms you might have - If you have any reason to feel that you might have caught an infection
Once the consultation is finished it is time to move on to the tests.
What are the different types of test?
There are a number of different tests that you may have to have done. Some of these will be swabs and some of these maybe blood tests. Some of the swabs that you have done may be able to be done by you where as others might have to be done by a nurse or doctor. This is something that you can ask about if it would make you feel more comfortable. For some STIs there may be the options of urine test (especially if you are male). These are the three main types of test.
Examination and swab tests
The examination will be slightly different for men and women.
As a woman you might be offered a blood test which will look for infections like HIV or Hepatitis.
The other part of the examination often involves swabs being taken from the vagina. Maybe of the swabs you can do yourself, so you would be given a kit to use along with some instructions. However in some cases the doctor or nurse might want to examine you and take the swabs theselves (This is often because of something you have told them make this more accurate).
If you do need to have swabs taken by someone it is done in a similar way to a smear test. It might be a little bit uncomfortable but shouldn't be painful. You will be asked to lie down on an examination table with no clothes on bellow the waist, though there will be a paper sheet covering you. The nurse/doctor will then ask you to pull your heals towards you and let you knees fall apart. At this stage they may feel around your groin area, this is to see if you have any swollen lymph nodes (these are small glands which get swollen when you have an infection). They may then examine you on the outside with a gloved had and cotton swab looking for genital warts, genital lice or discharge. The next thing that they have to do is an internal examination, for this they will need to insert a speculum which is a small plastic instrument which holds the walls of the vagina apart. The insertion and opening of this speculum shouldn’t hurt if it does let the doctor/nurse know. Swabs will then be taken from the top of the vagina for Chlamydia and gonorrhea, and from the walls for yeast, bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis. Finally the nurse/doctor may examine you with an inserted lubricated finger and some pressure on your lower stomach. That is the end of the internal examination.
The examination for men can be quite varied. It may involve a blood test to look for HIV or hepatitis. It can range from simply having to provide a urine sample to having an examination of your penis and your testicles.
If the doctor or nurse wants to examine you, you will be asked to lower your underwear to you mid thigh/knees and then lie down on an examination table. The doctor/nurse will examine your groin and feel for lumps or pain in your testicles. Next are the swabs/urine tests. If you have been experiencing symptoms then you may have to have a swap done. This will involve the swab being placed around the exit of your urethra and slightly inside to test for gonorrhoea and Chlamydia this maybe a bit uncomfortable but shouldn't hurt. Before you attend your appointment you may be asked not to urinate for two hours before you test.
The blood tests you have done will be the same as any blood test. You will have to sit down and a band will be tightly applied above you elbow this will allow the nurse/doctor to see you veins more easily. After cleaning your arm a small needle will be inserted into you arm and some blood taken. This will be taken and then tested for HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis.
How you get your results will depend on the clinic you go to. Some clinics will give you the results of your swabs on the day while as for some you will have to wait. Most clinics will either take your mobile number and text/call asking you to come in or give you a number to call to get your results. Often clinics will have a policy of "no news is good news" which means that if you don't hear from the after a set period of time you can assume your tests are negative. Make sure you know what your clinics policy is before you leave to avoid any anxiety later.
If you are found to be positive for any condition you will be asked to come back in and treatment will be given. Most treatment will be a course of antibiotics which you will be asked to take. Some treatments will involve creams and some such as genital warts may involve freezing treatments. However all this will be explained to you if the time arrives.
The staff at the clinic will help you to think about past sexual partners who you may need to inform about your diagnosis. You may have to do this yourself but some clinics will contact your partners for you and tell them that someone they have had sexual contact with has been diagnosed and telling them how to get tested.