Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by bacteria. People who have chlamydia often don’t have outward symptoms in the early stages. That might make you think you shouldn’t worry. However, chlamydia can cause health problems later, including preventing women from getting pregnant or even endangering their pregnancies.
If you have unprotected sex with someone whose STI status you’re not certain of, get tested for chlamydia and other STIs. You should get tested every time you might be exposed.
The treatment for chlamydia is oral antibiotics given either in multiple doses or just one dose. Take all medication as prescribed until the pills are gone. Waiting too long to treat chlamydia can cause serious complications. Make sure you talk to a doctor as soon as you think you might have been exposed.
Sex without a condom and unprotected oral sex are the main ways a chlamydia infection can spread. You don’t have to experience penetration to get it. Touching genitals together may transmit the bacteria. It can also be contracted during anal sex.
Newborn babies can acquire chlamydia from their infected mother during birth. Most prenatal testing includes a chlamydia test, but it doesn’t hurt to double-check with your OB-GYN during your first prenatal checkup.
You can get a chlamydia infection in the eye through oral or genital contact with the eyes, but this isn’t common.
Men and women can both get the infection, but women are more likely to be diagnosed. Statistically, you’re more likely to get an STI if you have sex with more than one person. Infection rates are highest among younger women, partly because their immature cervical cells are more vulnerable to infection, but older age isn’t a protection.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all sexually active women aged 25 years and younger get screened for chlamydia every year, as well as older women with risk factors like multiple or new partners.
Other risk factors include having had an STI in the past or currently having an infection, because that could lower your resistance.
An act of sexual assault puts you at risk for chlamydia and other STIs. If you were forced into any sexual activity, including oral sex, you should get tested as soon as possible. Organizations like the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) offer support for survivors of rape or sexual assault. You can call RAINN’s 24/7 national sexual assault hotline at 800-656-4673 for anonymous, confidential help.
Many people don’t notice the symptoms of chlamydia. Most people have no symptoms at all. If symptoms do appear, it’s usually one to three weeks after you’ve been infected.
Some of the most common symptoms include:
- burning sensation during urination
- yellow or green discharge from the penis or vagina
- pain in the lower abdomen
- pain in the testicles
- painful sexual intercourse in women (dyspareunia)
In some women, the infection can spread to the fallopian tubes, which may cause a condition called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is a medical emergency. The symptoms of PID are:
- severe pelvic pain
- abnormal vaginal bleeding between periods
It’s also possible to get a chlamydia infection in the anus. In this case, the main symptoms are often discharge, pain, and bleeding from this area.
If you have oral sex with someone who has the infection, you may get it in your throat. You may notice a sore throat, cough, or fever. It’s also possible to carry the bacteria in your throat and not know it.
When you see a doctor about chlamydia, you’ll likely be asked about your symptoms. If you don’t have any, your doctor may ask why you think you might have the infection. In this case, it’s important to talk about how you think you were exposed.
The most effective diagnostic test for chlamydia is to swab the vagina in women and to test the urine in men. If there’s a chance the infection is in your anus or throat, these areas may be swabbed as well.
The good news is that chlamydia is easy to treat. Since it’s bacterial in nature, it’s treated with antibiotics. Azithromycin is an antibiotic usually prescribed in a single, large dose, but the dose may also be spread out over five days. Doxycycline is an antibiotic that must be taken twice per day for about one week.
Your doctor may prescribe other antibiotics. No matter which antibiotic you’re given, you’ll need to follow the dosage instructions carefully to make sure the infection clears up fully. This can take up to two weeks, even with the single-dose medications.
Don’t have sex during the treatment time. You can get chlamydia if you’re exposed again, even if you’ve treated a previous infection.
If you see the doctor as soon as you suspect you’ve contracted chlamydia, you’ll likely be able to clear up the infection with no lasting problems. However, you may experience serious medical issues if you wait too long to treat it.
Some women develop PID, an infection that can damage the uterus, cervix, and ovaries. PID is a painful disease that often requires hospital treatment.
Women can also become infertile if chlamydia is left untreated because the fallopian tubes may become scarred. Pregnant women with the infection can pass the bacteria to their babies during birth, which can cause eye infections and pneumonia in newborns.
Men can also experience complications when chlamydia is left untreated. The epididymis, the tube that holds the testicles in place, may become inflamed, causing pain. This is known as epididymitis.
The infection can also spread to the prostate gland, causing a fever, painful intercourse, and discomfort in the lower back. Another possible complication is male chlamydial urethritis.
These are just some of the most common complications of untreated chlamydia, which is why it’s important to get medical attention right away. Most people who get treatment quickly have no long-term medical problems.
The surest way for a sexually active person to avoid contracting chlamydia is to use a condom during sexual intercourse, unless you’re absolutely certain your partner isn’t carrying the infection. You should either avoid having oral sex, or use protection during oral sex, until you know the other person doesn’t have chlamydia.
Use protection with each new partner and get tested for chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases between each new partner.