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What really happens in an STI screening appointment?


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Looking after your health is essential, so why do many of us allow fear to keep us from doing so?

It is always important to look after your physical and mental wellbeing. A key way of doing this is visiting a doctor, as they are often able to make connections and spot issues that would never occur to the average person. However, when it comes to sexual health and any issues relating to sexual activity, many people become squeamish.

Whether it's the idea of discussing your sex life with a doctor, or being tested for potential diseases and STI's, things can all seem a bit too much, and it can easily seem more appealing to stay at home and avoid it all. Unfortunately, while this method might help save you from a little discomfort, it certainly won't do your body or health any good.

This is especially true at the moment, as the rate of sexually transmitted infections are on the rise. This has led Dr Preethi Daniel to reach out to students in an attempt to demystify the process and encourage more young people to get tested. 

Here is what Dr Preethi Daniel had to say:

You might be filled with the utmost dread just at the thought of describing your bedroom habits to a stranger. You may have even more anxiety about getting tested for unwanted infections you can pick up from said bedroom activities. It is very understandable. Some things should be kept private. However, with the rising rates of sexually transmitted infections, it has never been more important to pay attention to your sexual health. Now is the time to come to your GP and get tested.

What exactly happens during an STI check up anyway? Do they do a swab? Do I have to provide a urine sample? Do I have to have a blood test?

There is absolutely no need to feel apprehensive. If anything, as GPs we have heard it all before! Nothing can shock us. Truly. Be open and share your worries and I guarantee you, it will go better than expected. Often, we do not even need to examine if you do not present with any symptoms.

The basic STI test involves taking a blood sample. This is to look for the common viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C. This test also detects bacterial infection such as syphilis. Blood is usually drawn from the crook of your elbow and the procedure takes less than a minute. It is slightly painful but not horrendous.

The basic test also involves a urine sample for men and a swab for women. Men are advised to hold their urine in for a minimum of an hour to provide a sample for chlamydia and gonorrhoea. In women, usually swabs are considered more accurate and this is a self-swab.

There are various other tests we can do in addition to the above. If a man was to come with a penile or rectal discharge, the doctor would take a sample of this discharge on a swab. The penile swab is not as ghastly as it sounds. It is a very thin cotton bud barely a few millimetres wide and is only inserted into the tip of the penis around a few millimetres deep to collect the sample. This procedure, although uncomfortable, is painless. This also goes for rectal swabs.

Any skin lesions that are worrying in the genital area can also be swabbed using a cotton bud and sent to the lab. Again this is painless. This can confirm genital herpes or warts (although often just a clinical examination is more than enough for this).

So whilst it all sounds rather unpleasant, we are hear to make you feel comfortable and now that you know exactly what happens during a sexual health check up, you do not have to feel scared at all!

Dr Preethi Daniel is Clinical Director at London Doctors Clinic

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