Chlamydia is a common bacterial infection that is curable with antibiotics. While people can sometimes experience symptoms, it is often a “silent infection” with no sign to tip us off to go see a doctor. This is why it is important to get tested regularly and/or when we have a new partner(s). Remember to ask for a throat and/or anal swab if you had oral and/or anal sex because chlamydia can occur in the throat and in the rectum too.
*Not everyone will experience symptoms
Penis: Itchy urethra, watery or milky discharge from the penis, pain or swelling of testicles.
Anus: Pain, itching, bleeding, and discharge from the rectum (if chlamydia is in the anus or rectum).
Vulva/Vagina: Bleeding after sex or between periods, pain during intercourse, vaginal discharge.
Throat: Sore throat, cough, swollen lymph nodes and/or fever (if chlamydia is in the throat).
- Pain in abdomen or lower back for those with vulvas/vaginas.
- Redness, itching, or discharge in the eyes (if chlamydia is in the eyes).
- Pain or burning while urinating.
Transmission and Prevention
Chlamydia can be passed on through unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal sex with someone who has chlamydia. There does not need to be penetration or ejaculation for transmission to occur. It can also be transmitted from a pregnant person to their baby during childbirth (that is why prenatal care includes STI testing). Using condoms for penetrative sex can help prevent the spread of chlamydia and dental dams or condoms can be used for protection during oral sex.
Chlamydia infections can be treated with either a single dose of antibiotics or multiple doses taken over the course of one week. All partners that have had sexual contact with someone who has chlamydia within 60 days of their diagnosis require testing and treatment if they have a positive test result. STI testing should be repeated 6 months after treatment. Even if you’ve had chlamydia and were treated, you can get it again if you have sex with someone who has chlamydia. It’s important that all partners get tested and treated.
Sex should not be resumed until treatment (of all partners) is complete (approximately 7 days after treatment).
If left untreated (possible complications)
While chlamydia is a common infection that can be cured with a dose of antibiotics, it can cause complications if it is left untreated. This is why regular testing is important, many of us won’t know we have it because not everyone experiences symptoms.
If left untreated, chlamydia can develop into pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) for those of us who have a uterus. About 10–15% of people who can get PID will experience it at least once in their life, most commonly when they are aged 20–24 (young people are more at risk because of their reproductive organs not being fully matured). Up to 40 percent of untreated lower genital tract infections progress to PID.
PID is an infection of a person’s reproductive organs, including the uterus (womb), fallopian tubes, and ovaries. It happens when bacteria travel up from the vagina into the reproductive organs. Chlamydia and gonorrhea are common causes of PID.
The time it takes before an untreated STI develops into PID is different from person to person. Some people may develop signs and symptoms of PID after a few weeks, for others it can take months.
PID is usually diagnosed based on the symptoms a person is feeling, not how long their STI has been untreated.
The most common symptoms of PID are:
- Pain in the lower abdomen, usually on both sides. The pain may be crampy or a dull constant ache;
- Pain during sex;
- Fever and/or chills;
- Abnormal fluid from the vagina (discharge);
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding (or spotting between periods);
- Needing to pee more often than normal;
- Pain with bowel movements or urination;
- Nausea and/or vomiting;
- Lower back pain.
PID can cause infertility (not being able to get pregnant), chronic pelvic pain and tubal pregnancies. PID can permanently scar and damage the fallopian tubes, causing blockage of the tubes. About 12 percent of people suffer enough tubal damage from one episode of PID to become infertile. After three episodes of PID, the infertility rate reaches 50 percent. This can also be a concern for someone who doesn’t know they are pregnant because there is a small chance that PID can result in a possible tubal/ectopic pregnancy (when a pregnancy develops in the fallopian tube instead of in the uterus), which requires emergency care.
Routine testing can help us make sure we know if we have chlamydia and get it treated before it causes complications.
Chlamydia infection during pregnancy may result in complications. That is why STI testing is a routine part of prenatal care. If you are diagnosed with chlamydia early in the pregnancy, it is treated with antibiotics.