Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the world, with 131 million new people becoming infected each year. Chlamydia is an infection caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis and can infect the genitals, rectum, eyes and throat. Most people who are infected don’t show any symptoms, which means it is easy to for the infection to pass between sexual partners without them knowing. People often don’t experience symptoms, but if left untreated, chlamydia can cause complications like pelvic inflammatory disease, epididymo-orchitis (inflammation of the testicles) and infertility. Fortunately, chlamydia is easily treated and usually only requires one course of antibiotics to cure.

Symptoms of chlamydia can include:

  • Pain during urination
  • Unusual discharge from the vagina, penis, or rectum

In women

  • Pain in the stomach
  • Bleeding during and after sex
  • Bleeding between periods (spotting)

In men

  • Pain and swelling in the testicles

How can I get it?

Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that is transmitted through sexual contact between partners. It is transmitted through bodily fluids, so it is not restricted to the genitals and infection can also occur in the eyes and back of the throat. Women with chlamydia can also transmit the infection to their baby through childbirth. Chlamydia is most commonly found in sexually active people between the ages of 15 and 29. Because most people do not experience symptoms, it is easy for chlamydia to be transmitted from partner to partner without them being aware of the risk.  This is why  it is important to get tested if you suspect that you or your partner may be at risk for chlamydia infection.

What are the risk factors?

Risk factors for chlamydia include:

  • Multiple sexual partners or frequent changing of sexual partners in the past year
  • Inconsistent or incorrect condom use
  • Past history of sexually transmitted infection

What are the symptoms?

In women
Most women do not experience any symptoms. However, in women, the most common symptoms are:

  • pain during urination
  • cloudy urine
  • unusual vaginal discharge
  • pain in the lower abdomen or pelvis
  • pain or bleeding during sex
  • bleeding after sex
  • bleeding between periods
  • heavier periods than usual
  • fever and fatigue

If chlamydia is left untreated, it can spread to the womb and cause a serious condition called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This is a major cause of ectopic pregnancy and infertility in women.

In men
At least half of all men with chlamydia don’t experience any symptoms. If they do notice symptoms, the most common include:

  • pain during urination
  • white, cloudy, or watery discharge from the tip of the penis
  • burning or itching in the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body)
  • pain in the testicles

If chlamydia is left untreated, the infection can cause swelling in the epididymis (the tubes that carry sperm from the testicles) and the testicles. This could affect fertility.

The incubation period for chlamydia is usually between 1-3 weeks after exposure to the bacteria, but initial symptoms can be seen anywhere from a few days to several months after initial exposure.

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Chlamydia can also infect:

  • the rectum if you have unprotected anal sex – this can cause discomfort and discharge from your rectum
  • the throat if you have unprotected oral sex – this is uncommon and usually causes no symptoms
  • the eyes if they come into contact with infected semen or vaginal fluid – this can cause eye redness, pain, and discharge (conjunctivitis)

Diagnosis

Testing for chlamydia involves either a urine sample or a swab of the infected area. Men usually are asked to provide a urine sample, while women are usually tested using a swab. The test typically takes 7-10 days to complete. If there is a high chance that you have chlamydia (for example, you are presenting multiple symptoms or your partner has been diagnosed with chlamydia), you may want to start antibiotics before the test results are ready. Some questions to consider:

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  • do you have reason to believe you have been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection?
  • have you told your partner?
  • what are your symptoms?
  • is there any abnormal discharge? If so, can you describe it? (colour, smell etc.)
  • is there swelling around the genitals or any other area of the body?
  • do you have urinary symptoms, such as frequent urination, burning or stinging when urinating, or urinating in small amounts?
  • is there any pain during intercourse?
  • what method of contraception do you use? Do you use condoms? If so, how do you use them? (Are you using them properly?)
  • have you ever had a sexually transmitted infection in the past? If so, was it treated?

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Treatment

Chlamydia can almost always be treated with antibiotics; 95% of people will be cured if they take their antibiotics properly. Patients may be started on antibiotics once they get their test results, but if it is highly likely that they have chlamydia, they may be started on antibiotics before their results are confirmed. The two most common antibiotics prescribed for chlamydia are azithromycin and doxycycline, doctors may prescribe a different antibiotic if a patient is allergic to the medication or if they  are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Sex should be avoided for at least a week after starting treatment, or until treatment has finished (usually a maximum of 10 days). This is to avoid re-transmission of the infection between the patient and partner(s).

If tested positive for chlamydia, it is important that current and past partners (during the last six months) of the patient get tested (and treated) as well.

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