You are here

Chlamydia

Chlamydia bacteria

What is chlamydia?

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis.

Did you know? Unsafe sex also puts you at risk of HIV

How do you get chlamydia?

Chlamydia is passed on via unprotected sex (sex without a condom) and by sharing sex toys.1

Safer sex is the most effective way to prevent chlamydia. This means using a condom every time you have sex (vaginal, anal or oral). A dental dam can be used to cover the female genitals during oral sex. Any sex toys should be covered with a new condom, and washed after use.1

If you have had unprotected sex, or you are worried about chlamydia, get tested.

What does chlamydia look like?

Many people with chlamydia experience no symptoms (70% of women and 50% of men). If symptoms do appear, they can become noticeable between one and three weeks after infection. In others, it can take a number of months or until the infection spreads to other parts of the body.2

Women may experience:

  • an increase in vaginal discharge caused by an inflamed womb (cervix)
  • pain when urinating
  • pain during sex and/or bleeding after sex
  • pain in the lower abdomen - especially when having sex
  • bleeding between periods and/or heavier periods.

In men, symptoms include:

  • a white, cloudy or watery discharge from the penis
  • pain when urinating
  • pain in the testicles.2

Infected semen or vaginal fluid in the eyes can cause inflammation of the eye (conjunctivitis). Unprotected anal or oral sex can lead to infection and symptoms in the rectum (discomfort, pain, bleeding or discharge) or throat (normally no symptoms).3

You can't diagnose chlamydia by looking at pictures because symptoms vary from person to person. If you think you have chlamydia, see your doctor or healthcare worker.

Can I get tested for chlamydia?

You can be tested for chlamydia whether you have symptoms or not.

For women, a doctor or healthcare worker may take a swab from either the cervix or the vagina. In men, either a urine sample or a swab is taken from the tip of the penis (urethra). If you have had anal or oral sex, you may have a swab taken from the rectum or throat.1

Results take no longer than a few days to come back.

"I would recommend anybody that has had unprotected sex to have a chlamydia test. I had one and it came back positive and I had no symptoms whatsoever. I was scared at first but when it was over with I had nothing to worry about. I had treatment for it which were 4 antibiotics that I took all at once and that was it :)" – Pippa4

How is chlamydia treated?

Chlamydia is treated easily with a short course of antibiotics. The two most common are:

  • azithromycin (single dose)
  • doxycycline (two capsules a day for a week).

If you are allergic to certain antibiotics, or are pregnant, the doctor may give you different antibiotics such as ofloxacin and erythromycin.5

To avoid re-infection, avoid having sex during treatment. Any current or recent sexual partners should also be tested and treated.

What happens if I don't get treatment for chlamydia?

As with most STIs, chlamydia puts you at risk of other STIs, including HIV. A pregnant woman can also pass chlamydia to her baby.2

If chlamydia is left untreated it can lead to other health problems.

For example, in women:

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) - infection of the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes. Can be treated with antibiotics
  • Cervicitis - inflammation of the cervix
  • Blocked fallopian tubes (Salpingitis) - inflammation of the fallopian tubes, preventing an egg from travelling from the ovary to the womb. Can sometimes be treated with surgery
  • Swollen Bartholin’s glands (Bartholinitis) - Chlamydia can cause the glands which produce a woman's lubricating mucus to become blocked and infected, leading to a cyst. The cyst can become infected and develop into an abscess. The abscess can be treated with antibiotics.

And in men:

  • Epididymitis - inflammation of the tubes that carry sperm to the testicles
  • Urethritis - inflammation of the urine tube
  • Reactive arthritis - inflammation of the joints, and in some people, the urethra and the eyes (conjunctivitis). Painkillers can control symptoms.6

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/jgroup

Would you like to comment on this page?

We are unable to respond to any questions, or offer advice or information in relation to personal matters.

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.
Page last reviewed:
01 May 2015
Next review date:
01 November 2016