STI vs STD: What’s the Difference?

Key Takeaways

  • An STI is only considered a disease if it causes symptoms. That’s the difference between STI and STD.
  • There’s no authority or general consensus on what term you should use. However, if you want to be medically accurate, then there is a distinction. Unless you are presenting symptoms, then you likely have an infection, or STI.
  • The medical community in recent years has been shifting away from the term STDs in favor of STI for several reasons. One of the main reasons is the stigma attached with STDs, but also because many STIs do not present symptoms.
  • Taking care of your sexual health is important. If you are sexually active and you wish to take an STI test in the privacy of your home, Getlabs can help.

If you’ve ever researched sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) (like you are now), it might seem like the terms sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and STDs are used interchangeably. Understandably, this can be confusing. So much so, that it might even look like a Spot the Difference picture, but you’re not sure if there are any.

Although STI and STD seem interchangeable, there are important distinctions between the two. In this article, we’ll cover the differences between an STD and STI, why it matters, and how to get tested.

STI vs STD

An STI is only considered a disease if it causes symptoms. That’s the difference between STI and STD.

Think of it this way, if all roads lead to Rome, then most infections lead to a disease.

Essentially, a disease is a manifestation of an advanced infection. Because it’s possible to contract an infection and display no symptoms, that’s where the distinction comes from. For instance, common STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea rarely present symptoms. However, if left untreated, both can develop into pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a serious pelvic infection.

Therefore, it’s more medically accurate to refer to chlamydia and gonorrhea as STIs, rather than STDs.

Which term should you use?

¿Por qué no las dos?

Translation: Why not both?

There’s no authority or general consensus on what term you should use. However, if you want to be medically accurate, then there is a distinction. Unless you are presenting symptoms, then you likely have an infection, or STI.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) uses both terms interchangeably. In comparison, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) prefers to use the term STI.

The medical community in recent years has been shifting away from the term STDs in favor of STI for several reasons. One of the main reasons is the stigma attached with STDs, but also because many STIs do not present symptoms.

The lack of symptoms can cause many individuals to assume they do not have a sexually transmitted disease and avoid testing. Which is why it’s important, if you are sexually active, to receive regular testing for STIs and STDs, even if you are not displaying any signs or symptoms.

Common STI & STD Symptoms

As we mentioned, not all STIs display symptoms. If they do, it still might take months or years for them to appear. At which point, the STI may have developed into a disease and potentially cause serious health issues.

That’s why it’s important to be knowledgeable and informed about the possible signs and symptoms that appear, so you know what to look for.

  • Chlamydia: Chlamydia is the most common STI in the United States. The CDC estimates there were nearly 1.5 million chlamydia infections in 2020 alone. Although chlamydia doesn’t often present symptoms, a few symptoms to look out for are: painful urination, abnormal discharge from the penis or vagina, an itching or burning sensation, and painful or abnormal bleeding between periods in women.
  • Gonorrhea: Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that can affect women and men. It’s also the second most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. It can infect the urethra, rectum, throat, and, in women, the cervix. You may not have symptoms of gonorrhea, or they may be so mild that you do not notice them. Symptoms of gonorrhea are very similar to that of chlamydia.
  • Syphilis: Syphilis is a bacterial infection that affects women and men. It can infect the vagina, penis, testicles, anus, and mouth. Syphilis develops in four stages, with different signs and symptoms in each stage. One or more sores will appear in the first stage, followed by skin rashes in the second stage. The third stage is known as the latent stage and presents no symptoms, whereas the final stage may result in brain or organ damage.
  • Trichomoniasis: Trichomoniasis, also referred to as “trich,” is a common STD that is caused by the protozoan parasite Trichomonas vaginalis. This STI can affect men and women, although infected men usually experience no symptoms. Symptoms of trichomoniasis include sore and itchy genitals and smelly, yellowish, or greenish discharge.
  • Genital Herpes: Most people infected with genital herpes won’t show any signs or symptoms, or they will be so mild that they will go unnoticed. Common symptoms include: painful ulcers, itching, small red bumps or white blisters around the penis, anus, or vagina, and scabs as the ulcers heal.

Here are a few signs and symptoms that are not STI specific, but can alert you towards a medical issue:

  • Burning sensation during urination
  • Unusual discharge
  • Bumps, rashes, or sores in the genital area
  • Pain during sex
  • Bleeding around the anus
  • Pelvic pain

When Should I Get Tested?

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, or if you’re sexually active and want to be proactive with your health, then regular testing for STIs and STDs is encouraged. In fact, the CDC recommends you get tested once a year if you are sexually active.

Fortunately, getting an STI test is easy. Tests can be performed via:

  • Doctor’s office
  • Hospital
  • Wellness clinic
  • At-home testing kit
  • Mobile lab testing services, like Getlabs

Get an At-Home STI Test

Taking care of your sexual health is important. If you are sexually active and you wish to take an STI test in the privacy of your home, Getlabs can help you take a blood sample, urine sample, or any sample you need, so you can be sure you will have an accurate test result.

If you have questions about how it works, go to getlabs.com/faqs to learn more.

Book an Appointment

Getlabs delivers healthcare to you. Our specialists come to you to collect your labs and deliver them to Labcorp and Quest for testing. We’re available same-day, nationwide.

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