You might not get any symptoms of chlamydia – most people don't get any. So you can pass on the infection to somebody you have sex with without even knowing it. If you do get symptoms, you might start to notice them about one to three weeks after you’re infected, although it could be longer.
In women, symptoms to look out for include:
- an unusual discharge from your vagina – it might look cloudy or be a yellow colour
- bleeding after you have sex or between your periods
- pain in the lower part of your tummy (abdomen) or pelvis
- pain when you wee
- pain when you have sex
In men, symptoms to look out for include:
- a milky discharge from your penis
- pain when you wee
- swollen, painful testicles
If you have receptive anal sex, you can get a chlamydia infection in your rectum (back passage). Often, you won’t get any symptoms, but you might notice a discharge or blood coming from your anus, and get painful cramps.
If infected semen or vaginal fluid comes into contact with your eyes, you might get conjunctivitis.
If you have any of these symptoms or think you could be at risk, go to a sexual health clinic or contact your GP. Some family planning clinics also provide testing and treatment.
If you go to see your GP, they may refer you to a sexual health clinic to be tested and to get treatment. You can also make your own appointment and go directly to a sexual health clinic without seeing your GP. All visits are confidential and your details won’t be sent to your GP without your consent.
You can have a test for chlamydia even if you don't have any symptoms. There are different ways to test for the infection, described below.
- A urine sample. Your clinic or GP might ask you not to go to the toilet for an hour or two before your test.
- A swab (similar to a small, round cotton bud). Your doctor or nurse will take a sample of cells from your vagina or neck of your womb (in women) or from inside the tip of your penis (in men). If you’ve had anal or oral sex, your doctor or nurse will use a swab to take a sample from your rectum or throat.
Your samples will be sent to a laboratory to be tested and should be available within seven working days. If you already have symptoms of chlamydia, your doctor may offer you treatment without waiting for your test results.
If the tests don’t show that you have chlamydia, but you’ve had unprotected sex recently, you might need to have another test. This should be two weeks after you think you may have caught the infection.
Taking a sample at home
If you’re a woman, it may be possible for you to collect a sample of cells with a swab from your vagina at home. You can then post this, following your health clinic’s instructions. Collecting a sample yourself is sometimes an option for men too – you collect a sample of your urine to send away to be tested.
If the tests show that you have chlamydia, it's important to contact anybody you’ve had sex with. This could be anyone you’ve slept with in the past one to six months, although you might need to go back further. Ask your clinic for advice.
Your past partners may be at risk of having the infection and may need treatment. If they know about this possibility, it will help to prevent them unintentionally spreading the infection to others. Your sexual health clinic may be able to support you with this.
Screening for chlamydia
In England, the National Chlamydia Screening Programme offers free chlamydia tests to men and women under 25. You can have a test every year, or every time you start having sex with someone new. Chlamydia tests are sometimes available at youth clubs, colleges, pharmacies and some GP practices. Depending on where you live, you might be able to order a self-testing kit online that you can post back to a lab to test.
Similar screening programmes run in other parts of the UK. Ask your GP practice or local sexual health clinic if there’s a screening programme in your local area.
It’s usually easy to treat and cure chlamydia. But if you don’t treat it, chlamydia can take a long time to clear up on its own – it can last months or even years.
Your doctor will prescribe you an antibiotic to treat chlamydia. Usually, you’ll either take just one dose of a medicine called azithromycin at the clinic or your GP can prescribe it. Or your doctor might prescribe a course of antibiotics called doxycycline that you’ll need to take for a week.
Once you’re diagnosed with chlamydia, you shouldn’t have sex again until you (and your partner if they are also having treatment) have finished your medication. Ask your doctor when you can get the ‘all clear’ as it varies depending on which type of antibiotic treatment you have.
Chlamydia is caused by bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis. These bacteria can infect:
- in women, the neck of your womb (cervix)
- your urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder and out of your body)
- your rectum (back passage)
- your throat (if you have oral sex)
- your eyes (if you touch your eye with a finger carrying infected fluid from your or your partner’s genitals)
You can get or pass on chlamydia during vaginal, anal or oral sex, as well as by sharing sex toys.
If you’re pregnant, your baby could get an infection when you give birth.
The bacteria can’t survive outside the body for long – certainly no longer than a couple of hours. You don’t get chlamydia from kissing, hugging or sharing baths, towels, cups, plates or cutlery. You also won’t get it from swimming pools or toilet seats.
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.
If you get treatment for chlamydia early, it’s less likely to cause you further problems. If you don’t get treatment, there’s a risk the infection might spread to other parts of your body and cause complications.
- In women, chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease if the infection spreads to your womb (uterus), fallopian tubes and ovaries. Pelvic inflammatory disease can make you infertile and cause ectopic pregnancy. Chlamydia can also spread to your liver, and cause pain and inflammation (swelling).
- In men, a chlamydia infection can spread to your testicles, which may lead to pain and inflammation in the tubes that carry sperm. Or it can cause swelling in your prostate gland. Some research has suggested this could be linked with infertility, but doctors don’t know for sure yet.
Chlamydia can cause a reaction in your body that leads to inflammation in the joints in both men and women. This is known as reactive arthritis.
There are ways you can lower your risk of getting or passing on chlamydia.
- Use condoms when you have vaginal, oral or anal sex.
- Don’t share sex toys. If you do, wash them well or cover them with a new condom before anyone else uses them.
- Before you have sex with a new partner, you could both consider having a test for chlamydia and other STIs.
Tell your doctor or nurse if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. They’ll choose an antibiotic that’s safest for your baby.
It’s important to get treatment for chlamydia during your pregnancy. This will reduce your risk of complications, such as your baby being born prematurely. It’s also possible to pass on chlamydia to your baby when you give birth. This can cause conjunctivitis in babies or a lung infection (pneumonia), but there are treatments for both of these conditions.
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.
If you think you might have been infected with chlamydia, don’t delay getting tested. The sooner chlamydia is treated, the better your chance of making a full recovery and having fewer complications. You can be tested at a sexual health clinic or GP surgery straight away if you’re worried that you may have it. They might ask you to return a couple of weeks later for a second test to be sure the results are correct.
You can still have a test even if you don’t have any symptoms. Around half of men, and seven in 10 women will have no symptoms even though they have the infection.
You won't usually need to have another chlamydia test after you've finished your treatment. But you might need a follow-up test if:
- you haven’t taken your antibiotics properly
- you think you may have been exposed to the infection again
- you still have symptoms of chlamydia
- you’re pregnant
You’ll have this test at least three weeks after you complete your treatment. If you and your partner have had unprotected sex before you both finished your treatments, you might need another test. This is because you might have been infected again with chlamydia.
If you’re under 25, your clinic might offer you another test for chlamydia three to six months after you finish your treatment.
Not usually, because chlamydia often doesn’t cause any symptoms. This means you can have the infection without knowing – you could have had it for months or even years. Depending on how many people you’ve had sex with, it can be hard to trace it to one person. The results of a chlamydia test can’t tell you how long you’ve had chlamydia either.
- 2015 UK national guideline for the management of infection with Chlamydia trachomatis. British Association for Sexual Health and HIV. www.bashh.org
- Opportunistic chlamydia screening of young adults in England: an evidence summary. Public Health England. www.gov.uk, published April 2014
- Genital tract chlamydia infection. BMJ Best Practice. bestpractice.bmj.com, last updated 3 October 2016
- Chlamydia. fpa. www.fpa.org.uk, published December 2016
- Find a clinic. fpa. www.fpa.org.uk, accessed 29 November 2016
- Sexually transmitted infections in primary care. Royal College of General Practitioners. www.rcgp.org.uk, published 2013
- Making it work. A guide to whole system commissioning for sexual health, reproductive health and HIV. Public Health England. www.gov.uk, revised March 2015
- 2015 BASHH CEG guidance on tests for sexually transmitted infections. British Association for Sexual Health and HIV. www.bashhguidelines.org, amended December 2015
- Chlamydia trachomatis. UK testing guidelines British Association for Sexual Health and HIV. www.bashh.org, published 2010
- Fajardo-Bernal L, Aponte-Gonzalez J, Vigil P, et al. Home-based versus clinic-based specimen collection in the management of Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae infections. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2015, Issue 9. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD011317.pub2
- Chlamydia – uncomplicated genital. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised June 2016
- Health protection report: infection report. Public Health England. www.gov.uk, published 5 July 2016
- Sexual health and contraception. Oxford handbook of general practice (online). Oxford Medicine Online. oxfordmedicine.com, published April 2014
- Chlamydia trachomatis. Public Health Agency of Canada. www.phac-aspc.gc.ca, modified 30 April 2012
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
Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Freelance Health Editor, March 2017
Expert reviewer, Dr Adrian Raby, General Practitioner and Clinical Lecturer
Next review due March 2020
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.
We 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
- Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor
- Graham Pembrey - Lead Editor
- Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor, Quality
- Michelle Harrison – Specialist Editor, Insights
- Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor, User Experience
- Fay Jeffery – Web Editor
- Marcella McEvoy – Specialist Editor, Content Portfolio
- Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor (on Maternity Leave)
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: email@example.com. Or you can write to us:
Health Content Team
Battle Bridge House
300 Grays Inn Road