Chlamydia

Was this helpful?
(15)

What is chlamydia?

Chlamydia is the most commonly reported bacterial sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Source: CDC).

Chlamydia is caused by an infection of the genital tract by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. Chlamydia is preventable and treatable. It is diagnosed by testing a small sample of cells or discharge taken from a woman’s cervix or a man’s urethra.

Any person who engages in sexual activity can contract and pass on a chlamydia infection. This includes heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual men and women. The more sexual partners a person has, the greater the risk of catching a chlamydia infection. Girls and young women have an especially high risk of catching chlamydia. Chlamydia can also be passed from an infected mother to her newborn during vaginal delivery. This can create serious medical complications for the newborn. Sexual partners of infected individuals should be tested and treated.

Although there are often no symptoms or only mild symptoms of the disease, untreated chlamydia infection can lead to serious complications, such as pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. Using safer sex practices, seeking regular medical care, and seeking early, regular prenatal care can help reduce the risk of serious complications of chlamydia.

What are the symptoms of chlamydia?

Symptoms of chlamydia infection vary among individuals. Some people, particularly women, experience no symptoms at all, especially in the early stages of the disease. However, serious permanent damage to the reproductive tissues and infertility can occur even in the absence of symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they generally occur one to three weeks after exposure to the infection.

Symptoms of chlamydia in women include:

  • Lower abdominal pain

  • Pain or burning with urination

  • Painful sexual intercourse

  • Unusual vaginal discharge

Symptoms of chlamydia in men include:

  • Burning with urination

  • Discharge from the penis

  • Testicular pain

Serious symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition

In some cases, advanced chlamydia infection can lead to serious, even life-threatening conditions, such as pelvic inflammatory disease and pelvic abscess, which should be evaluated in an emergency setting. Symptoms include:

However, some women may have no symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease.
Chlamydia infection can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby during vaginal delivery and can lead to eye infection, blindness, and pneumonia in the newborn. If you are experiencing symptoms or you are concerned about chlamydia, it’s important to contact a medical professional.

What causes chlamydia?

Chlamydia is caused by a bacterial infection of the genital tract by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. Chlamydia is passed from one person to another during sexual contact that involves vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Chlamydia infection can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby during vaginal delivery.

What are the risk factors for chlamydia?

Any person who engages in sexual activity can contract and pass on a chlamydia infection, including heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual men and women. The more sexual partners a person has, the greater the risk of catching a chlamydia infection. Girls and young women have an especially high risk of developing a chlamydia infection because their reproductive organs are not fully mature and are more susceptible to infection.

Risk factors for chlamydia include:

  • Being a girl or young woman

  • Being born to a mother with chlamydia

  • Having multiple sexual partners

  • Having unprotected sex, including vaginal, oral, or anal sex, with a partner who has had one or more other sexual partners

Reducing your risk of chlamydia

Catching and passing on a chlamydia infection is preventable. It is important to understand that it is possible to transmit chlamydia even when there are no symptoms. Not all people who are at risk for chlamydia will develop the disease. You may be able to lower your risk of contracting and spreading chlamydia by:

  • Abstaining from sexual activity after being diagnosed with chlamydia until you and your sexual partner(s) have been completely treated and cleared to resume sexual activity by a health care provider

  • Engaging in sexual activities only within a mutually monogamous relationship in which neither partner is infected with chlamydia or has risk factors for chlamydia

  • Getting regular, routine medical care

  • Seeking medical care as soon as possible after possible exposure to chlamydia or after high-risk sexual activity

  • Seeking prenatal care early and regularly during a pregnancy

  • Using a new latex condom properly for each sex act

How is chlamydia treated?

Chlamydia is treatable, and prompt diagnosis and treatment can reduce the risk of developing serious complications, such as premature deliver and infertility, and minimize the spread of the disease to others. You can treat chlamydia by consistently following your treatment plan. Treatment plans generally include antibiotic medications and other treatments.

Antibiotic medications for chlamydia include:

  • Azithromycin

  • Doxycycline

  • Erythromycin

Other treatments for chlamydia include:

  • Abstaining from sexual activity until the infection is cured and all sexual partners have been treated, even if they have no symptoms

  • Hospitalization and/or surgery for complications, such as pelvic inflammatory disease and pelvic abscess

What are the possible complications of chlamydia?

Complications of untreated chlamydia can be serious. You can minimize the risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you.

Serious complications of chlamydia include:

Serious complications of prenatal chlamydia

Newborn babies are at risk if their mothers have chlamydia during pregnancy and delivery. Chlamydia infection can be passed from an infected mother to her baby during vaginal delivery and lead to serious complications including:

  • Loss of vision and blindness

  • Newborn pneumonia

  • Premature delivery

If you are pregnant and experiencing symptoms or you are concerned about chlamydia, contact a medical professional.

Was this helpful?
(15)
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 9
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Tierney LM Jr., Saint S, Whooley MA (Eds.) Current Essentials of Medicine (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011.