Chlamydia guide

Definition

What is Chlamydia?

Chlamydia is the most commonly reported bacterial sexually transmitted disease — and it's on the rise, especially among young women. Health officials believe that some 4 million people are infected with the bacteria.*

Chlamydia is caused by a bacteria, Chlamydia trachomatis, that can be passed from person to person during unprotected vaginal, anal and oral sex … even if the tongue, penis or sex toy doesn't fully penetrate the anus or vagina. The bacteria attacks the mucous membranes it comes in contact with, including inside the penis, vagina, anus and throat. It's also possible for an infected mother to transmit chlamydia to her baby in vaginal childbirth, potentially causing serious infection.

The good news is that chlamydia is easily treated and curable with antibiotics. Left untreated, however, chlamydia can lead to serious health problems down the road, including infertility, and increase your risk of getting other STDs, like HIV. Data from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that 10-15% of untreated chlamydia cases result in Pelvic inflammatory Disease (PID), which can lead to infertility. Some 750,000 PID cases are diagnosed each year in the United States … not to mention, medical costs of chlamydia, including diagnosis and treatment of associated infertility, are more than $701 million annually.

Chlamydia spreads easily … if you have it, your sexual partner probably does, too. You should both get tested and treated at the same time so that you don't re-infect one another or anyone else.

Reference

Risk

How do people get infected with chlamydia?

Anyone can get chlamydia, usually through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. The most common risk factors are:

  • A history of chlamydia
  • A history of unprotected sex (vagina, anal or oral)
  • A new sexual partner
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • A history of substance abuse

Due to reporting disparities and a number of other variables, there is a higher prevalence of chlamydia among sexually active females, teenagers, young adults and African-Americans … for example, women are more likely to get screened, and some ethnic and racial minority groups are more likely to use public clinics that report STD cases. As well, awareness of STDs and how to prevent them, and access to regular healthcare are inconsistent among populations that are disadvantaged by poverty and other social determinants … these groups may therefore be more likely to engage in risky sexual activity.

How is chlamydia spread?

Chlamydia is only transmitted sexually, or through birth. You cannot get chlamydia from toilet seats, towels, shaking hands, deep kissing, sharing a glass of water, or the like.

Is it possible to get chlamydia again?

Even if you've been treated for chlamydia, you're not immune … you can be re-infected. That's why sexual partners should be treated at the same time so that an untreated partner still carrying the bacteria doesn't re-infect the treated partner.

Want to learn more?

Symptoms

Chlamydia signs and symptoms

Most of the time, chlamydia is silent … you can have the infection and not know it. That's why getting tested is so important. If you do show symptoms, they'll typically occur within 7 to 14 days after sexual contact.

Chlamydia symptoms in women

Common
  • No symptoms
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Burning or painful urination
  • Bleeding after sex or between periods
Uncommon
  • Pelvic pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Nausea or fever
  • Pain during sex
  • Sore throat
  • Rash
  • Rectal discharge, pain or bleeding

Chlamydia symptoms in men

Common
  • No symptoms
  • Discharge from penis
  • Burning or painful urination
Uncommon
  • Burning, discomfort or itching around the opening of the penis
  • Testicular pain or swelling
  • Sore throat
  • Rash
  • Rectal discharge, pain or bleeding

Throat or rectal symptoms

Both men and women who have anal sex and get rectal infections may experience chlamydia symptoms … including rectal discharge, pain or bleeding, or swelling of the rectum. Even women who only have vaginal sex can get rectal chlamydia by spreading the infection from their genitals when wiping.

Symptoms of oral chlamydia — generally passed from person to person through oral sex — including a sore throat and throat infection. A sore throat could simply mean strep throat or a virus … but, if you've have had oral sex recently, it could mean oral chlamydia or, more commonly, gonorrhea in the throat. If you have these symptoms and test negative for strep, it's a good idea to consult your regular doctor for a throat examination and a thorough swab test which cannot be done at a standard testing facility.

Complications

Chlamydia complications

What if chlamydia is untreated?

Left undiagnosed and untreated, chlamydia can cause reproductive problems and other health complications. That's why getting tested is so important.

Untreated chlamydia in women

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 10-15% of women with untreated chlamydia get Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). PID is an infection that attacks the uterus and fallopian tubes, leading to the possibility of infertility or life-threatening ectopic pregnancies.

In rare cases, untreated chlamydia can also lead to chronic pelvic pain or cystitis (inflammation of the urinary bladder).

Untreated chlamydia in men

While uncommon, untreated chlamydia can lead to the infection spreading to other parts of the penis, prostate and testicles, causing pain and inflammation. The infection can also spread to the epididymis (the tube that caries sperm from the testes), causing pain, fever and sterility.

Chlamydia and HIV

Peoplewith chlamydia are more likely to get HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In fact, women who have chlamydia are five times more likely to get HIV if exposed to the virus.

In general, someone who has one STD is at greater risk for infection with other STDs, including HIV. That's because STDs that cause ulcers, sores, or otherwise break the skin or mucous membranes make carriers more susceptible to infection … also, someone with one or more STDs may have a weakened immune system that makes them more vulnerable to other diseases.

Chlamydia and pregnancy

There's a risk that a mother infected by the bacteria can pass it to her baby during delivery, potentially causing premature delivery, pneumonia, and eye or respiratory infection in the infant. To reduce these complications, early testing and treatment of chlamydia is critical for pregnant women.

If you're pregnant and concerned about chlamydia, be sure to consult your regular doctor.

Testing

Chlamydia testing

How do I get tested for chlamydia?

We make getting tested for chlamydia simple. We offer the Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) which is a urine test that is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for its reliability. You do not need to fast.

This test amplifies the DNA that is found in the Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria. Molecular tests like this one are generally more sensitive than a swab test of the cervix (women), the urethra (men), or rectum for people who have receptive anal sex. Best of all, the NAAT is easy and safe (noundressing or swabbing required!) … and it's the most accurate chlamydia test available today.

Note: The CDC especially recommends annual chlamydia screening for sexually active women age 25 and younger.

What chlamydia test results mean

A positive test result means you have an active chlamydia infection that can be easily treated and cured with antibiotics. A negative test result doesn't necessarily mean that you are free of the bacteria … sometimes the infection, or signs of the infection, don't show up right away.

If you test positive, we're here to help. You'll have the opportunity to consult with a Clinic doctor on the phone right away. We'll answer your questions, prescribe treatment, and help you determine the next steps based on your specific circumstances.

Understanding false-positive or false-negative test results

As with most medical tests, there's a slight chance (1-4%) that a positive test result indicates an infection when there isn't on (false-positive); or a test comes back negative, despite the presence of infection (false-negative). For example, a false-negative test result can happen if an infected person tests too early for an infection to be detected … that means it's possible to get a negative test result but still have an STD.

Get tested 2 weeks after you believe you were first exposed; and then again 6 weeks later.

Learn more about "testing windows" — the recommended amount of time between potential exposure to an STD infection, and when testing is expected to identify the infection (or re-infection); for example, if you had unprotected sex last night and became infected with chlamydia, the bacteria wouldn't necessarily show up right away … it can take up to four weeks to test positive.

Re-infection

Even if you were treated for chlamydia, you could be at risk for re-infection … especially if your partner has not been treated. We recommend that you get tested again to make sure that you haven't been re-infected. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, 13% of people with chlamydia get re-infected … all the more reason to re-test and use protection.

Treatment

Chlamydia treatment

Is there a cure or treatment for chlamydia?

Yes. Once you've been tested and diagnosed with chlamydia, it can be effectively and easily cured with antibiotics — most commonly, with a single, oral dose of azithromycin.

Can people get chlamydia more than once?

Yes, After treatment, the chlamydia infection should clear within a week, but it is possible to become re-infected. That's why sexual partners should be treated at the same time so that an untreated partner still carrying the bacteria doesn't re-infect the treated partner … and you'll want to avoid sexual contact altogether until your "test of cure" is negative, or until one week after both you and your partner have completed treatment.

Note: Retesting 3 months after taking antibiotics is an effective way to determine if the treatment was successful.

Be sure to continue to use latex condoms to minimize the risk of re-infection.

Pregnancy and antibiotics

In general, chlamydia can be cured during pregnancy with oral antibiotics. Consult your regular doctor about the risks involved, and to identify a treatment that's best for you and your baby.

Concerned about Chlamydia?

Find out if you should get tested today; peace of mind has never been easier. Questions about our process? See how our STD testing works.