Information for Patients
What is chlamydia?
Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted disease. It is caused by bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis. It can infect both men and women. Women can get chlamydia in the cervix, rectum, or throat. Men can get chlamydia in the urethra (inside the penis), rectum, or throat.
How do you get chlamydia?
You can get chlamydia during oral, vaginal, or anal sex with someone who has the infection. A woman can also pass chlamydia to her baby during childbirth.
If you've had chlamydia and were treated in the past, you can get re-infected if you have unprotected sex with someone who has it.
Who is at risk of getting chlamydia?
Chlamydia is more common in young people, especially young women. You are more likely to get it if you don't consistently use a condom, or if you have multiple partners.
What are the symptoms of chlamydia?
Chlamydia doesn't usually cause any symptoms. So you may not realize that you have it. People with chlamydia who have no symptoms can still pass the disease to others. If you do have symptoms, they may not appear until several weeks after you have sex with an infected partner.
Symptoms in women include
- Abnormal vaginal discharge, which may have a strong smell
- A burning sensation when urinating
- Pain during intercourse
If the infection spreads, you might get lower abdominal pain, pain during sex, nausea, or fever.
Symptoms in men include
- Discharge from your penis
- A burning sensation when urinating
- Burning or itching around the opening of your penis
- Pain and swelling in one or both testicles (although this is less common)
If the chlamydia infects the rectum (in men or women), it can cause rectal pain, discharge, and/or bleeding.
How is chlamydia diagnosed?
There are lab tests to diagnose chlamydia. Your health care provider may ask you to provide a urine sample. For women, providers sometimes use (or ask you to use) a cotton swab to get a sample from your vagina to test for chlamydia.
Who should be tested for chlamydia?
You should go to your health provider for a test if you have symptoms of chlamydia, or if you have a partner who has a sexually transmitted disease. Pregnant women should get a test when they go to their first prenatal visit.
People at higher risk should get checked for chlamydia every year:
- Sexually active women 25 and younger
- Older women who have new or multiple sex partners, or a sex partner who has a sexually transmitted disease
- Men who have sex with men (MSM)
What are the complications of chlamydia?
In women, an untreated infection can spread to your uterus and fallopian tubes, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can cause permanent damage to your reproductive system. This can lead to long-term pelvic pain, infertility, and ectopic pregnancy. Women who have had chlamydia infections more than once are at higher risk of serious reproductive health complications.
Men often don't have health problems from chlamydia. Sometimes it can infect the epididymis (the tube that carries sperm). This can cause pain, fever, and, rarely, infertility.
Both men and women can develop reactive arthritis because of a chlamydia infection. Reactive arthritis is a type of arthritis that happens as a "reaction" to an infection in the body.
Babies born to infected mothers can get eye infections and pneumonia from chlamydia. It may also make it more likely for your baby to be born too early.
Untreated chlamydia may also increase your chances of getting or giving HIV/AIDS.
What are the treatments for chlamydia?
Antibiotics will cure the infection. You may get a one-time dose of the antibiotics, or you may need to take medicine every day for 7 days. Antibiotics cannot repair any permanent damage that the disease has caused.
To prevent spreading the disease to your partner, you should not have sex until the infection has cleared up. If you got a one-time dose of antibiotics, you should wait 7 days after taking the medicine to have sex again. If you have to take medicine every day for 7 days, you should not have sex again until you have finished taking all of the doses of your medicine.
It is common to get a repeat infection, so you should get tested again about three months after treatment.
Can chlamydia be prevented?
The only sure way to prevent chlamydia is to not have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
Correct usage of latex condoms greatly reduces, but does not eliminate, the risk of catching or spreading chlamydia.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection and inflammation of the uterus, ovaries, and other female reproductive organs. It causes scarring in these organs. This can lead to infertility, ectopic pregnancy, pelvic pain, abscesses, and other serious problems. PID is the most common preventable cause of infertility in the United States.
Gonorrhea and chlamydia, two sexually transmitted diseases, are the most common causes of PID. Other bacteria can also cause it. You are at greater risk if you
- Are sexually active and younger than 25
- Have more than one sex partner
Some women have no symptoms. Others have pain in the lower abdomen, fever, smelly vaginal discharge, irregular bleeding, and pain during intercourse or urination. Doctors diagnose PID with a physical exam, lab tests, and imaging tests. Antibiotics can cure PID. Early treatment is important. Waiting too long increases the risk of infertility.