You can pass on the infection to a sexual partner without knowing it. Around half of men and seven in 10 women with chlamydia don't have any symptoms.
If you do have symptoms, you may start to notice these between one and three weeks after being infected. However, you might not notice any symptoms until months after coming into contact with the infection.
In women, symptoms to look out for are:
- unusual discharge from the vagina – such as a cloudy or yellow discharge
- bleeding from the vagina after sex or between periods
- pain in the lower abdomen (tummy) or pelvis
- pain when passing urine
- pain during sex
In men, symptoms to look out for are:
- a milky discharge from the penis
- pain when passing urine
- swelling in the testicles
You can get a chlamydia infection in your rectum (back passage) if you have anal sex. This may cause a discharge or bleeding from your anus, and you may feel some discomfort. However, often there are no symptoms.
If infected semen or vaginal fluid comes into contact with your eyes, you can get an eye infection called conjunctivitis.
If you have any of these symptoms, go to a sexual health clinic or see your GP.
If you think you may have chlamydia, go to a sexual health clinic or see your GP. You can have a test for chlamydia even if you don't have any symptoms.
You can get help with your sexual health at your local sexual health or contraception clinic, where all visits are confidential. Don’t forget, you can also see your GP if you have any questions, or would like some advice about your sexual health.
In England, the National Chlamydia Screening Programme offers free chlamydia tests to men and women aged under 25. Chlamydia tests are also sometimes available at youth clubs, colleges, pharmacies and certain GP practices. Depending on where you live, you may be able to get a self-testing kit that can be sent to you.
You can get details about chlamydia tests from sexual health charities. Your GP, pharmacist or sexual health professional may also be able to give you information about them. There are different ways to test for chlamydia.
- It’s possible to test a sample of urine for chlamydia. You may be asked not to go to the toilet for up to two hours before your test. This sample will be sent to a laboratory for testing.
- Your doctor or nurse may use a swab (similar to a small round cotton bud) to take a sample of cells. This will be collected from your vagina (for women) or from the tip of your penis (for men). If you're female, you may have the option to collect a sample of cells from your vagina yourself using a swab. Your doctor or nurse may also use a swab to take a sample from your rectum or throat. These samples may be examined under a microscope.
Your doctor at the clinic may look at your samples straight away. If your samples show a high number of pus cells (white blood cells), this may indicate a chlamydia infection. If you already have symptoms of chlamydia, your doctor may offer you treatment without waiting for your test results.
If the tests show that you have chlamydia, it's important to contact your current and previous sexual partners, as they may also be at risk. If you don’t want to do this yourself, some clinics can send anonymous letters on your behalf if you're willing to provide details.
Chlamydia is easily treatable. It’s also highly unlikely that chlamydia will clear up without treatment.
You will be prescribed an antibiotic to treat chlamydia. This often comes as a single dose. You can take this at the clinic or at your GP surgery. Instead of a single dose, you may be prescribed a course of antibiotics. You’ll need to take these for up to two weeks.
You will be asked not to have sex again for seven days after your treatment has finished.
Your previous sexual partners should be treated for chlamydia too. If they have symptoms, they may be treated for chlamydia before the results of their laboratory tests come back. Treating your partners can help to prevent them from getting complications and passing it on to anyone else.
Certain antibiotics can interfere with some forms of hormonal contraception, such as the pill. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist if taking antibiotics with hormonal contraception.
Chlamydia is caused by the C. trachomatis bacteria. The bacteria can survive in the cells of the cervix (neck of the womb) and urethra. This is the tube that carries urine from the bladder and out through the penis or vulva. The bacteria can also survive in the rectum (back passage) and sometimes in your throat and eyes.
Chlamydia is passed from one person to another through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. You can get chlamydia if you come into contact with semen or vaginal fluids from someone who already has the infection. It can be passed on by sharing sex toys if you don’t wash them or cover them with a new condom each time they’re used. Chlamydia can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby during delivery.
However, you can’t get chlamydia from kissing, hugging or sharing baths, towels, cups, plates or cutlery. You also can’t get the infection from swimming pools or toilet seats.
If you’re treated early for chlamydia infection, you’re less likely to go on to have long-term health problems as a result. Not everyone who has chlamydia has complications but without proper treatment the infection can spread to other parts of your body.
If you’re a woman, chlamydia can spread to your womb (uterus) and fallopian tubes causing pelvic inflammatory disease. This happens in up to three out of 10 women with chlamydia. If you have pelvic inflammatory disease, you may have long-term pelvic pain. Pelvic inflammatory disease can lead to complications including blocked fallopian tubes, infertility and ectopic pregnancy. This is when a pregnancy occurs outside the womb, usually in a fallopian tube. Chlamydia can also spread to your liver causing pain and inflammation. This usually gets better with the correct antibiotic treatment.
If you’re a man, chlamydia can lead to an infection in your testicles. Chlamydia has also been linked to infertility in men, although this is rare.
Rarely, chlamydia can lead to inflammation of the joints in both men and women. This is known as reactive arthritis.
There are ways to lower your risk of getting or passing on chlamydia.
- Always using condoms when having vaginal, oral or anal sex.
- Not sharing sex toys with partners. If you do share them, wash them or cover them with a new condom before anyone else uses them.
- Before having sex with a new partner, you could both consider having a test for chlamydia.
If you're pregnant or breastfeeding
If you have chlamydia when you're pregnant, there’s a chance that you may develop complications. For example, you may be at risk of a miscarriage or having your baby prematurely. However, you can take certain antibiotics while you’re pregnant to treat the infection.
If you have chlamydia when you give birth to your baby, he or she may develop an eye (conjunctivitis) or lung infection (pneumonia). Your baby can be treated with antibiotics for both of these conditions.
Tell your doctor or nurse if you’re pregnant, or think you might be, or if you’re breastfeeding. This will affect the type of antibiotic that you’re given.
How soon after having unprotected sex can I have a test for chlamydia?
You can be tested straight away if you’re worried that you may have chlamydia. You may be asked to return two weeks later for a second test to be sure the results are correct.
You can make an appointment to be tested at a sexual health clinic or GP surgery even if you have no symptoms. You might be asked to come back after two weeks to confirm your diagnosis. If you’re diagnosed with chlamydia, don’t have sexual contact again until after you have finished the course of treatment.
Do I need to have a test again when I have finished the treatment to check that chlamydia has cleared up?
You won't usually need to have another chlamydia test after you've finished your treatment.
A follow-up test to check the infection has cleared up isn't usually needed if you’ve taken your treatment correctly.
However, you may need to be tested again if:
- you and your partner have had unprotected sex before both of you have completed your treatment
- you think you may have been exposed to the infection again, or still have symptoms of chlamydia
- you are pregnant
Is it possible to tell how long I have had the infection?
Not usually, because chlamydia often doesn’t cause any symptoms, which means you can have the infection without knowing.
The results of a chlamydia test can’t tell you how long you’ve had the infection.
As you may not have symptoms of a chlamydia infection, it's possible to have it for many months without knowing. It can also be difficult to tell who passed the infection onto you if you’ve had sex with more than one person.
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