Chlamydia

Overview

What is chlamydia?

Chlamydia (say: “cla-mid-ee-ah”) is a bacteria (germ) that you can catch through sexual contact with someone who is infected. It can also be given to newborn babies by mothers who have chlamydia during the last part of their pregnancy. Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the United States.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of chlamydia?

Often, chlamydia causes no symptoms at all, especially in the early stages of infection. Many people are not even aware that they are infected. Symptoms are more likely to occur 1 to 3 weeks after exposure and can include:

  • Painful urination (often a burning sensation)
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Vaginal discharge in women
  • Irregular periods in women
  • Difficulty getting pregnant
  • A discharge from the penis in men
  • Pain in the testicles in men

Causes & Risk Factors

How could I get this infection?

You could get chlamydia through sexual contact with a person who has chlamydia. You are at an increased risk if of catching chlamydia if you have had sex with a new partner, had many sex partners, had a partner who has had many sex partners or if you do not use a condom every time you have sex.

It is also possible for an infected mother to pass chlamydia to her baby during delivery.

Diagnosis & Tests

How will my doctor know if I have chlamydia?

Your doctor may swab the inside of the vagina in women and the end of the penis in men. The sample is sent to a lab and checked for chlamydia. Your doctor may also order a urine test to determine if you have chlamydia. He or she may check you for chlamydia when you are pregnant, even if you have no signs of the infection. Chlamydia is harmful to newborns and can cause pneumonia or an eye infection (that could lead to blindness).

Prevention

How can I prevent another chlamydial infection?

Know the people you have sexual contact with. Limit the number of people you have sexual contact with. Always use a condom. If you are thinking about using a spermicide, be aware that spermicides containing nonoxynol-9 can cause genital irritation and can actually increase your risk of catching an STI. However, using a condom with nonoxynol-9 is better than not using a condom at all.

Women ages 25 and younger who are having or have had any kind of sex (oral, vaginal or anal) should see their doctor on a routine basis to be screened for chlamydia and other STIs. Women should also avoid douching because it reduces the amount of good bacteria in the vagina and may increase the risk of infection.

Treatment

How is chlamydia treated?

Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics. These antibiotics are usually given in pill form. If you have chlamydia, it is important to tell anyone you have had sex with that you have this infection, so they can be treated, also.

Tell your doctor if you have any allergies to antibiotics and/or if there is any chance you might be pregnant. Be sure to finish all your antibiotics and do not have sex until both you and your sex partner(s) have finished taking the antibiotics. If you get a fever or bad stomach pain while taking the antibiotics, let your doctor know right away.

Complications

What can happen if chlamydia is not treated?

If chlamydia is left untreated, it can spread to different parts of your body and do additional damage. If chlamydia spreads to the eyes, it can cause eye infections and blindness. In women, the infection can spread to the uterus and fallopian tubes. The infection can scar these areas and lead to infertility or an ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy that occurs outside of the uterus). If an infected mother transfers the infection to her baby, it can cause pneumonia or an eye infection that could result in blindness. In men, chlamydia can spread to the testicles and prostate. This can cause swelling, painful urination, fever and pain in the lower back.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • What treatment is best for me?
  • How long will my treatment last?
  • Is there any way to avoid giving chlamydia to my boyfriend/girlfriend?
  • I’m pregnant. Is my baby in any danger?
  • Am I at risk of getting any other sexually transmitted infections?
  • Is there anything I can do at home to help my symptoms until the medicine starts working?
  • Should my partner be tested for chlamydia?