What type of STI is chlamydia?
Chlamydia is caused by a bacterium called chlamydia trachomatis. As it's a bacterium it means you can treat it with an appropriate course of antibiotics.
Although it isn't dangerous in the early stages, if chlamydia is not dealt with it can turn into a more serious illness such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), inflamed testicles and even cause infertility. In some cases, untreated chlamydia can lead to reactive arthritis.
The problem is that chlamydia is not always identified due to its lack of symptoms. If you've had unprotected sex it's worth getting tested for chlamydia to be sure you are safe. This will also stop you passing on the disease to others.
What Are The Symptoms Of Chlamydia?
Many people with chlamydia don't know they have it because there are often no noticeable symptoms, particularly in women.
Symptoms Of Chlamydia In Women
Around 70% of women experience no symptoms at all. Some will experience pain when urinating, pain in the stomach, vaginal discharge, rectal discharge, bleeding during and after sex, heavier periods and interperiod bleeding. If left untreated chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease which is a cause of infertility.
Symptoms Of Chlamydia In Men
50% of men do not notice any symptoms. When they do arise symptoms include pain when urinating, white, cloudy or watery discharge, penile itching, discharge from the rectum and painful or swollen testicles. If left untreated it can lead to swelling in the tubes that transport sperm from your testicles potentially affecting fertility.
You can also develop chlamydia in the throat which often causes no symptoms at all or in your eyes where the symptoms are conjunctivitis-like redness, pain and discharge.
Symptoms can appear one to three weeks after contracting the disease but often disappear after a few days. Even if you don't have symptoms you could still have an active chlamydia infection.
How Do You Get Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is mostly spread via sex with an infected individual. Bacteria are transferred through semen and vaginal fluids. Penetrative sex spreads chlamydia but it's not the only way to contract the infection. Other ways include:
- Sharing sex toys
- Anal and oral sex
- Non-penetrative sex such as touching genitals - ejaculation is not required
- Mothers can pass chlamydia to their baby during birth
You can't get chlamydia from kissing, although oral sex with an infected person risks spreading chlamydia to your throat and potentially your eyes. Sharing towels, swimming, cutlery or toilet seats do not spread chlamydia.
If you've had unprotected sex it makes sense to get tested. You can get a free test at a sexual health clinic, GUM clinic or via your doctor. The test is done via a swab or urine test for women and a urine test for men. It isn't an invasive procedure and is not painful at all.
You could also pick up a home testing kit from your pharmacy or doctor's surgery. Home-testing kits are also available for genital herpes, gonorrhoea and other STIs. Home-testing kits vary in reliability so always use one from a trustworthy source. In some areas, young people under 25 can order a free kit through the post.
Get tested for chlamydia if :
- You have symptoms
- You had unprotected sex
- A condom breaks during sex
- Your partner thinks they have an STI
- You are planning to become pregnant or are pregnant
Don't wait if any of the above applies to you. Chlamydia is easy to treat in the early stages. If it's allowed to develop and get a foothold then it's harder, but not impossible, to eliminate. In the early stages a quick course of antibiotics will clear a chlamydia infection.
The NHS recommends that under 25s should get tested every year or when they change sexual partner because this is the biggest risk group.
How Do I Treat Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is readily treatable. You should not wait to see if it goes away because it could cause health problems and you will spread the infection.
To treat chlamydia in the early stages you will need antibiotics. It's much easier to treat than viral infections or the incurable STIs that exist such as herpes. 95% of people with chlamydia will be cured first time.
You may read about herbal remedies for chlamydia. It's not recommended you use these because they are not clinically proven. The most efficient and safest way to treat chlamydia is with antibiotics. Genital chlamydia treatment is usually a one off treatment of two Azithromycin pills. Anal chlamydia may require a different type of antibiotic such as Doxycycline over the course of a week. If you have developed complications then a longer course may be needed.
You should always finish the whole course of treatment even if your symptoms clear up and you feel better. Don't hold onto antibiotics 'just in case'. If you finish the course early there may still be bacteria remaining. This will simply multiply and cause another infection, plus you will still be infectious to a partner.
Don't have sex until your treatment is finished. This includes penetrative vaginal or anal sex, oral sex, rubbing genitals and sharing sex toys.
If you have unprotected sex with a partner you should ensure they are treated too or you will catch chlamydia again. Some clinics operate a system under which they will contact your sexual partners to let them know they may have an STI.
Why Should I Treat Chlamydia?
Chlamydia must always be treated with antibiotics; it will not go away on its own. Without treatment, you will spread the disease and risk developing complications that can seriously affect your health.
Complications In Women
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This is when unchecked chlamydia spreads to your womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries. Once there it can cause persistent pelvic pain, an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy and difficulties getting pregnant. In some cases, it can cause infertility. PID is treated with a longer two-week course of antibiotics. The sooner you receive treatment for chlamydia the lower your risk of developing complications like PID.
In pregnancy chlamydia can cause problems such as your baby developing an eye or lung infection when born. It also increases the risk of premature birth, miscarriage and a stillbirth.
Complications In Men
Tubes that carry semen from the testicles can become inflamed by chlamydia bacteria. This is known as epididymitis. Epididymitis is treated with antibiotics but can cause infertility if left.
In both men and women a complication of chlamydia is the risk of developing reactive arthritis. If this happens your joints, eyes, and urethra become inflamed. There is no cure, but it usually passes in a few months. Painkillers such as Ibuprofen can help to manage the symptoms.
The benefits of treating chlamydia also include finding out if you have any other STIs. It's entirely possible to contract chlamydia alongside other STIs such as HIV, syphilis and genital warts. If you visit a clinic they will usually recommend you are tested for all STIs.
By getting treatment you protect yourself and your partner; you can relax during sex and feel confident about your health.
Chlamydia is very common. Many people seek treatment and there is no need to feel embarrassed or ashamed of contracting an STI.
FAQ About Chlamydia
If I pee after sex can will I still get chlamydia?
Yes. Peeing after sex will help you avoid a urinary tract infection such as cystitis, but it will not prevent an STI if you've had unprotected sex with an infected person. Douching or washing will not help either.
Will chlamydia make me infertile?
Chlamydia has the potential to make men and women infertile if it is not treated.
Can I treat chlamydia without telling my partner?
You can but without involving your sexual partner they will simply transfer the bacteria to you again. Couples need treatment together. Seek your doctor's help if you find this difficult.
If I've had chlamydia once will I catch it again?
Yes you can. Antibiotics are not an inoculation and you can't build up an immunity to chlamydia. Bacteria can breed in the same location many times.
Will I need another test to check its gone?
If you have taken all your treatment correctly it's not likely chlamydia will remain, but for your peace of mind you may wish to take another test.
Who Gets Chlamydia?
Anyone who has sex, shares sex toys or exchanged body fluids with an infected person can develop chlamydia. No-one is immune and all age groups are vulnerable.
Where Do I Get Treatment From?
Your doctor or local sexual health clinic will arrange testing and provide treatment for chlamydia. If you choose a home testing kit you can order your treatment discreetly online following an online consultation. Either way, ensure you seek treatment to avoid complications and the risk of spreading the infection to your partner.
How To Prevent STIs In the Future
STI prevention is down to making good choices about your sexual health. Condom use is vital. Always use a male or female condom for sex if you do not know the sexual history of your partner. Condoms do not protect you from every STI as STIs can spread from the uncovered skin, but using them reduces the risk. Other methods of preventing STIs include:
- Not sharing sex toys
- Limiting your number of sexual partners
- Using a dental dam - a square piece of rubber or silicone that is placed on the vagina to avoid fluid exchange. Opened condoms work well too
- Getting regular screenings for STIs even if you don't t have symptoms
- Seeking immediate treatment if you are diagnosed with an STI
- Ensuring your partner is treated to avoid transferring STIs to each other
Chlamydia is common and routinely treated in sexual health clinics across the UK. If you've had unprotected sex it's worth undertaking a screening to check for chlamydia, even if you have no symptoms. Treatment is quick, easy and painless if you catch it early.