What is chlamydia?
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.
In fact, about 90 percent of women and 70 percent of men with the STI have no symptoms. But chlamydia can still cause health problems later.
Untreated chlamydia can cause serious complications, so it’s important to get regular screenings and talk with your doctor or healthcare provider if you have any concerns.
Chlamydia can cause a vaginal discharge. It may resemble pus or mucus.
Sex without a condom and unprotected oral sex are the main ways a chlamydia infection can be transmitted. But penetration doesn’t have to occur to contract it.
Touching genitals together may transmit the bacteria. It can also be contracted during anal sex.
Newborn babies can acquire chlamydia from their mother during birth. Most prenatal testing includes a chlamydia test, but it doesn’t hurt to double-check with an OB-GYN during the first prenatal checkup.
A chlamydia infection in the eye can occur through oral or genital contact with the eyes, but this isn’t common.
Chlamydia can also be contracted even in someone who’s had the infection once before and successfully treated it. Find out more about how chlamydia is shared between individuals.
In 2017, more than 1.7 million casesTrusted Source of chlamydia were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, many cases go unreported, so the real number of chlamydia infections every year may be closer to 3 millionTrusted Source.
Men and women can both get the infection, but more casesTrusted Source in women are reported.
Infection rates are highest among younger women, with the highest ratesTrusted Source of infection occurring in women between ages 15 and 24.
The CDCTrusted Source recommends that all sexually active women ages 25 years and younger get screened for chlamydia every year, as well as older women with risk factors like multiple or new partners.
Statistically, a person is more likely to get an STI if they’ve had sex with more than one person. Other risk factors include having had an STI in the past, or currently have an infection, because this could lower resistance.
Many men don’t notice the symptoms of chlamydia. Most men have no symptoms at all.
If symptoms do appear, it’s usually 1 to 3 weeks after transmission.
Some of the most common symptoms of chlamydia in men include:
- burning sensation during urination
- yellow or green discharge from the penis
- pain in the lower abdomen
- pain in the testicles
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.
Having oral sex with someone who has the infection raises the risk for getting chlamydia in the throat. Symptoms can include a sore throat, cough, or fever. It’s also possible to carry bacteria in the throat and not know it.
Chlamydia is often known as the “silent infection.” That’s because people with chlamydia may not experience symptoms at all.
If a woman contracts the STI, it may take several weeks before any symptoms appear.
Some of the most common symptoms of chlamydia in women include:
- painful sexual intercourse (dyspareunia)
- vaginal discharge
- burning sensation during urination
- pain in the lower abdomen
- inflammation of the cervix (cervicitis)
- bleeding between periods
The symptoms of PID are:
- severe pelvic pain
- abnormal vaginal bleeding between periods
Chlamydia can also infect the rectum. Women may not experience symptoms if they have a chlamydia infection in the rectum. If symptoms of a rectal infection do occur, however, they may include rectal pain, discharge, or bleeding.
Additionally, women can develop a throat infection if they perform oral sex on someone with the infection. Though it’s possible to contract it without knowing it, symptoms of a chlamydia infection in your throat include cough, fever, and sore throat.
When seeing a healthcare professional about chlamydia, they’ll likely ask about symptoms. If there are none, they may ask why you have concerns.
If symptoms are present, the doctor may perform a physical exam. This lets them observe any discharge, sores, or unusual spots that may be related to a possible infection.
The most effective diagnostic test for chlamydia is to swab the vagina in women and to test urine in men. If there’s a chance the infection is in the anus or throat, these areas may be swabbed as well.
Results may take several days. The doctor’s office should call to discuss results. If the test returns positive, a follow-up appointment and treatment options will be discussed.
STI testing can be done in several ways. Read more about each type and what it will tell your doctor.
If a healthcare provider is seen as soon as chlamydia is suspected, the infection will likely clear up with no lasting problems.
However, people may experience serious medical issues if they wait too long to treat it.
Female complications of untreated chlamydia
Women can also become infertile if chlamydia is left untreated because the fallopian tubes may become scarred.
Male complications of untreated chlamydia
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.
STIs can also be transmitted and contracted during oral sex. Contact with the mouth, lips, or tongue may be enough to transmit chlamydia.
If you contract chlamydia from oral sex, you may experience no symptoms. Like vaginal or anal chlamydial infections, symptoms don’t always appear.
If symptoms are present with chlamydia in the throat, they can include:
Other STIs can develop in the throat. Each type of STI in the throat cause unique symptoms and concerns.
A chlamydia infection is most common in the genital area, but it can occur in less common places like the anus, throat, and even the eyes. It can occur in the eyes through direct or indirect contact with the bacterium.
For example, the infection can go from the genitals to the eye if you touch your eye without washing your hands.
If you have a chlamydia eye infection, also known as chlamydial conjunctivitis, the following symptoms may occur:
If left untreated, chlamydia in the eye can lead to blindness. But it’s easily treated, and early treatment will help cure the infection and prevent complications.
Chlamydia in the eye may be confused with more common eye infections. Learn the differences between chlamydia and other eye infections to know the symptoms.
Chlamydia and gonorrhea are two common STIs. Both are caused by bacteria that can be passed during vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
Both STIs are unlikely to cause symptoms. If symptoms do occur, people with chlamydia experience the first signs within a few weeks of contracting the infection. With gonorrhea, it can be much longer before symptoms appear, if at all.
Both infections share some similar symptoms. These include:
- pain or burning during urination
- an abnormal discharge from the penis, vagina, or anus
- swelling in the testicles or scrotum
- rectal pain
- bleeding from the rectum
The two infections can also lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and reproductive issues if left untreated.
Untreated gonorrhea can lead to itching, soreness, and pain in the rectum, such as during bowel movements. Women with untreated gonorrhea may also experience prolonged, heavy periods and pain during intercourse.
Both chlamydia and gonorrhea can be treated effectively with antibiotics. They’re both curable and unlikely to cause long-term issues if treated quickly.
Several other key differences help distinguish between the two STIs. Read more about how chlamydia and gonorrhea are similar and how they’re different.
The surest way for a sexually active person to avoid contracting chlamydia is to use a condom during sexual intercourse.
To practice safe sex, it’s recommended to:
- Use protection with each new partner.
- Get tested regularly for STIs with new partners.
- Avoid having oral sex, or use protection during oral sex, until a partner has been screened for STIs.
Safe sex can protect everyone from infections, unintended pregnancy, and other complications. Safe sex is incredibly successful if done correctly.