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.
- Chlamydia - uncomplicated genital. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published May 2009
- Chlamydia. FPA. www.fpa.org.uk, accessed 11 July 2014
- STDs and pregnancy – CDC factsheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov, published 10 July 2013
- Chlamydia. The facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov, accessed 17 July 2014
- Sexual health and contraception. Oxford handbook of general practice (online). Oxford Medicine Online. www.oxfordmedicine.com, published April 2014
- Genital tract chlamydia infection. BMJ Best Practice. www.bestpractice.bmj.com, published 21 January 2014
- Chlamydia genital infection. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, published 12 August 2013
- Conjunctivitis – infective. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published August 2012
- Chlamydia. CDC factsheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov, published 30 June 2014
- Pelvic inflammatory disease. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published March 2013
- Pelvic inflammatory disease. American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. www.acog.org, accessed 11 July 2014
- Fitz-Hugh Curtis syndrome. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, published 28 September 2011
- Reactive arthritis. American College of Rheumatologists. www.rheumatology.org, accessed 11 July 2014
- How to get help with your sexual health. FPA. www.fpa.org.uk, accessed 29 August 2014
- National Chlamydia Screening Programme. Public Health England. www.chlamydiascreening.nhs.uk, accessed 16 July 2014
- Management of genital Chlamydia trachomatis infection. Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN), 2009. www.sign.ac.uk
- 2006 UK National Guideline for the management of genital tract infection with Chlamydia trachomatis. British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, 2006. www.bashh.org
- Pattman R, Sankar N, Elawad, B et al. Oxford handbook of genitourinary medicine, HIV, and sexual health. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 154−9
- Map of Medicine. Chlamydia. International View. London: Map of Medicine; 2014 (Issue 3)
- Chlamydial genitourinary infections. Antibiotic therapy. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 21 March 2013
- Contraception: introduction. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), www.evidence.nhs.uk, accessed 25 September 2014
- Contraception - combined hormonal methods. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published June 2012
- Neonatal conjunctivitis treatment and management. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 20 February 2014
- Congenital pneumonia. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 11 December 2013
We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
Reviewed by Hemali Bedi, Bupa Health Information Team, September 2014.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
About our health information
At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.
Information StandardWe are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
What our readers say about us
But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.
“Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.”
“It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.”
“Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.”
Meet the team
Head of health content and clinical engagement
- Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor – UK Customer
- Nick Ridgman – Lead Editor – UK Health and Care Services
- Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor – User Experience
- Pippa Coulter – Specialist Editor – Content Library
- Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor – Insights
- Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor – Quality
- Michelle Harrison – Editorial Assistant
Our core principles
All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.
In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.
We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.
We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.
Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.
The Information Standard certification scheme
You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.
It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.
Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.
British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards
We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.
If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can write to us:
Health Content Team
15-19 Bloomsbury Way