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Chlamydia symptoms and treatment

Chlamydia usually has no symptoms meaning most people with the infection do not know they have it. It is passed on through vaginal, anal and oral sex without a condom or sharing unwashed sex toys with someone who has the infection.  

If left untreated for a long time it can lead to serious health problems, if discovered early it is easily treated with a short course of antibiotics. 

What is chlamydia?

Chlamydia is a bacterial infection (caused by tiny, living cells). The bacteria is called chlamydia trachomatis.  

It is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is easily treated. But most people who have chlamydia do not notice any symptoms so without routine testing it can often go undetected.  

How do you get chlamydia?

The bacteria are usually spread through: 

  • unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex    

  • your genitals touching an infected person’s genitals – this means you can get and pass on chlamydia even if you don’t have penetrative sex or ejaculation 

  • sharing unwashed or uncovered sex toys with someone who has the infection 

  • infected semen or vaginal fluid getting into your eye. 

Chlamydia can also be passed on by a pregnant woman to her baby. For more details on chlamydia in pregnancy read our ‘in detail’ tab.  

Chlamydia can’t be passed on through casual contact like kissing, hugging, sharing baths, towels or using the same toilet as someone with the infection. 

How do you prevent chlamydia?

The most effective way to protect against chlamydia is to use a new external (male) condom or internal (female) condom every time you have vaginal or anal sex. If you are having oral sex cover the penis with an external condom or use a dental dam to cover the vulva (female genitals). 

Chlamydia can be passed on by sharing sex toys. Always cover sex toys with a new condom and wash them each time they’re used. 

Taking the contraceptive pill or any other type of contraception – apart from condoms – doesn’t prevent chlamydia. 

Having regular STI tests is one of the best ways to look after your sexual health. If you are having sex with multiple partners, it’s even more important to use condoms and get tested regularly even if you don’t have any symptoms. 

What are the symptoms of chlamydia?

Most people who have chlamydia do not notice any symptoms. If you do get symptoms these usually appear 1-3 weeks after having unprotected sex with someone who has the infection. They can also develop months later. 

People who get symptoms may experience: 

  • pain or burning when urinating (peeing) 

  • pain or bleeding during/after sex 

  • unusual discharge from the vagina, penis or bottom 

  • women may get pain in the lower stomach and/or bleeding between periods  

  • men may get pain and swelling in the testicles. 

You can also get chlamydia in your anus (bottom), eyes or throat. If infected semen or vaginal fluid comes into contact with your eyes, you can develop conjunctivitis. 

Both women and men can experience discomfort and discharge in the anus. Infection in the eyes can cause eye redness, pain and discharge. Chlamydia in the throat doesn’t normally have any symptoms. 

For more details on chlamydia symptoms in women and chlamydia symptoms in men read our ‘in detail’ tab .

How do I test for chlamydia?

If you think you're at risk of having chlamydia or have any symptoms you should get tested as soon as possible. You can have a test even if you do not have symptoms.  

Getting tested for chlamydia is easy and doesn’t hurt. A healthcare professional will ask for a urine (pee) sample or take a swab from the area that might be infected, such as inside the vagina or inside the anus. If you’ve had anal or oral sex, you may have a swab taken from your anus or throat. 

In some countries you can get a self-testing kit to do at home. 

It’s important to regularly test for chlamydia, even if you don’t have any symptoms. Being treated as soon as possible will reduce your risk of developing any serious or long-term complications.  

How is chlamydia treated?

Chlamydia can be easily treated with a short course of antibiotics. You may be able to take all the antibiotics in one day, or over a week. 

It’s important not to have sex until you and your current sexual partner(s) have finished treatment. If you’ve had the one-day course of treatment, you should avoid having sex for seven days afterwards.  Ask your healthcare professional when it’s safe to have sex again. 

Remember that if you’ve been treated for chlamydia you can get infected again, so it’s important to go for regular tests. 

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What are the different symptoms of chlamydia in women and men?

Symptoms in women 

It is important to remember that most women with chlamydia don't notice any symptoms. If they do, the most common include:  

  • pain when urinating (peeing) 

  • unusual vaginal discharge 

  • pain in the lower stomach or pelvis 

  • pain during sex 

  • bleeding after sex 

  • bleeding between periods or heavier periods.  

Symptoms in men 

Most men with chlamydia also don't notice any symptoms. If they do, the most common include:  

  • pain when urinating (peeing) 

  • white, cloudy or watery discharge from the penis 

  • pain and/or swelling in the testicles 

  • burning or itching in the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body). 

What are the long-term effects of untreated chlamydia?

If left untreated, chlamydia can lead to other, sometimes serious, health problems. 

In women, untreated chlamydia cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can cause pelvic pain, infertility (inability to get pregnant), and ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus) which can be life-threatening. PID can be treated with antibiotics. 

In men, untreated chlamydia can cause swelling in the epididymis (the tubes that carry sperm from the testicles) and the testicles. Rarely, it can cause infertility in men. 

Chlamydia can also cause reactive arthritis in both women and men – inflammation of the joints, and in some people, the urethra and the eyes (conjunctivitis). 

What if I’m pregnant and have chlamydia?

It is important to be tested for chlamydia if you are pregnant as untreated chlamydia can lead to complications such as premature labour and birth or your baby being born with a low birthweight. You can also pass the infection on to your baby. If this happens, your baby could develop an eye infection (conjunctivitis) or a lung infection (pneumonia).  

With the right treatment during pregnancy, these complications can be avoided.  If your baby develops symptoms then they should also be tested to check for chlamydia. Antibiotics can be used to treat them. 

How do I tell my recent sexual partner(s) I have chlamydia?

If you test positive for chlamydia, it’s important to tell any recent sexual partner(s) so they can also get tested, and treated if necessary. If you feel it is safe to do so then telling a partner is the responsible thing to do – it shows you respect them and want them to stay healthy. 

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  • Last updated: 18 March 2022
  • Last full review: 01 March 2022
  • Next full review: 01 March 2025
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