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Chlamydia (say "kluh-MID-ee-uh") is an infection spread through sexual contact. This infection infects the urethra in men. In women, it infects the urethra and the cervix and can spread to the reproductive organs. It is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Chlamydia does not cause problems if you treat it right away. But left untreated, it can lead to serious problems, especially for women:
A certain kind of bacteria causes chlamydia. It can spread from one partner to another through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. A pregnant woman can pass the infection to her newborn during delivery.
Most people don't have symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they can include pain when you urinate, cloudy urine, or an abnormal discharge from the penis or vagina.
You can spread chlamydia even if you do not have symptoms. You are contagious until you have been treated.
Your doctor will ask you questions about your past health and your sexual history, such as how many partners you have. You may also have a physical exam to look for signs of infection.
Several types of tests can be used to diagnose chlamydia. Most use a sample of urine or a swab from the cervix, vagina, or urethra.
Since chlamydia can cause serious problems but may not cause symptoms, it's a good idea to get tested once a year if you are sexually active and in your mid-20s or younger. Local health departments and family planning clinics usually offer low-cost testing.
Antibiotics are used to treat chlamydia. It's important to take all of the medicine as directed. Otherwise the medicine may not work. Both sex partners need treatment to keep from passing the infection back and forth.
As soon as you find out you have chlamydia, be sure to let your sex partners know. Experts recommend that you notify everyone you've had sex with in the past 2 months. If you have not had sex in the past 2 months, contact the last person you had sex with.
Having a chlamydia infection that was cured does not protect you from getting it again. If you are treated and your sex partner is not, you probably will get it again.
Some people who have chlamydia also have other STIs, such as gonorrhea.
Finding out that you have an STI may make you feel bad about yourself or about sex. Counseling or a support group may help you feel better.
It's easier to prevent an STI like chlamydia than it is to treat it:
Chlamydia infection is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. It is spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected partner. A pregnant woman may spread the infection to her newborn during delivery.
You can spread chlamydia even if you do not have symptoms of infection. You can spread the infection until you have been treated.
Most women and men with chlamydia do not have symptoms.
The time between exposure to chlamydia and the start of symptoms—the incubation period—may range from days to months. If symptoms appear, it is usually 1 to 3 weeks after sexual contact with an infected person.
Chlamydia does not cause long-term problems if it is treated before any complications develop. Left untreated, chlamydia can lead to many complications, especially for women. If a woman has chlamydia when she gives birth, her newborn can be infected.
Having a chlamydia infection that was cured does not protect you from a future infection. A new exposure to chlamydia will reinfect you, even if you were treated and cured.
Having chlamydia increases your risk of becoming infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) if you are exposed to the virus.footnote 1
Untreated chlamydia can cause a variety of complications.
Risk factors for getting chlamydia include:
Any child with chlamydia needs to be seen by a doctor to determine the cause and to assess for possible sexual abuse. For more information, see the topic Child Abuse and Neglect.
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if you have these chlamydia symptoms:
Call your doctor if you have these symptoms:
Also call if you think you may have been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Watchful waiting is a period of time during which you and your doctor observe your symptoms or condition without using medical treatment. Watchful waiting is not appropriate for a chlamydia infection. Chlamydia causes no long-term problems if it is treated before any complications develop. But untreated chlamydia can lead to many complications. Avoid sexual contact until you have been examined by your doctor.
If you know you have been exposed to chlamydia, you and your sex partner (or partners) need to be treated. You need to be treated even if you don't have symptoms. Notify all partners with whom you had sex in the 60 days since your symptoms or diagnosis. If you have not had sex in the last 60 days, contact your last sex partner.
Health professionals who can diagnose chlamydia include:
Low-cost diagnosis and treatment of chlamydia are usually available at local health departments and family planning clinics, such as Planned Parenthood.
Some people are not comfortable seeing their usual doctor for an STI. Most counties have confidential clinics for diagnosing and treating chlamydia and other STIs. But for your future care it would be good for your doctor to know of this infection.
A doctor diagnoses chlamydia using a medical history, a physical exam, and tests. During the medical history, your doctor may ask you questions such as:
After the medical history is taken:
Several types of tests can be used to diagnose a chlamydia infection. Test results are usually done in 2 to 3 days, except for the chlamydia culture. It can take 5 to 7 days.
Other infections can occur along with a chlamydia infection. Your doctor may recommend testing for:
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends chlamydia screening for all sexually active women ages 24 and younger. The USPSTF also recommends screening for women older than 24 with high-risk sexual behaviors. High-risk sexual behaviors include having multiple sex partners or having sex without using a condom (except if you're in a long-term relationship). The task force does not state how often to be screened. After reviewing all of the research, the USPSTF has not recommended for or against regular chlamydia screening for men.footnote 2
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends screening every year for sexually active adolescents and women ages 24 and younger. Women older than 24 who have high-risk sexual behaviors also should be screened every year.footnote 3 You may have a urine test for chlamydia (if it is available in your area) even if you do not have a full pelvic or genital exam.
The CDC recommends tests for pregnant women with high-risk sexual behaviors so they do not spread chlamydia to their babies. All pregnant women should be screened during their first prenatal visit. If a pregnant woman is at high risk for chlamydia, she may be tested again during her third trimester.
The CDC also recommends you have the test again 3 to 12 months after you finish treatment. Women who have been diagnosed and treated for chlamydia may get it again if they have sex with the same partner or partners.
Chlamydia can be cured with antibiotics. The infection does not cause long-term problems if it is treated early. But untreated chlamydia can lead to many complications.
Treatment is recommended for:
It is important to not have sex for 7 days after the start of treatment for chlamydia.
If you are treated for chlamydia and your sex partner is not, you will probably become infected again. Encourage your partner to get treated. Use condoms to lower the chance of reinfection.
Some people who have chlamydia may also have gonorrhea. In that case, treatment includes antibiotics that kill both chlamydia and gonorrhea. For more information, see the topic Gonorrhea.
Reinfection can occur. Symptoms that continue after treatment are probably caused by another chlamydia infection rather than treatment failure. To prevent reinfection, sex partners need to be evaluated and treated.
Repeated chlamydia infections increase the risk for pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Even one infection can lead to PID without proper treatment. Make sure to take your antibiotics exactly as prescribed. Take the full course of medicine, even if you feel better in a couple of days.
Some doctors recommend retesting 3 to 12 months after treatment to reduce the risk of complications from reinfection.footnote 4
If you have chlamydia, your doctor will send a report to the state health department. Your personal information is kept confidential. The health department may contact you about telling your sex partner or partners that they may need treatment.
You can reduce your risk of becoming infected with chlamydia or another sexually transmitted infection (STI) and spreading the infection.
Preventing an STI is easier than treating an infection after it occurs.
For more information, see the topic Safer Sex.
Condoms reduce the risk of becoming infected with an STI. A condom must be put on before any sexual contact begins. Use condoms with a new partner until you are certain he or she does not have an STI.
Even if you are using another birth control method, you may want to use condoms to reduce your risk of getting an STI. Female condoms are available for women whose partners do not have or will not use a male condom.
There is no home treatment for chlamydia. Antibiotics, taken exactly as prescribed, normally cure chlamydia infections. Chlamydia does not cause long-term problems if it is treated before complications develop. Untreated chlamydia can lead to many complications.
Finding out that you have chlamydia may cause you to have negative thoughts or feelings about yourself or about sex. You may feel embarrassed, be angry at the person who infected you, or feel frustrated with treatment. You may want to seek counseling or join a support group for people who have sexually transmitted infections (STIs). You may get counseling from a psychologist, a social worker, or another counselor. STI health clinics may offer counseling and support groups.
Antibiotic treatment, when taken exactly as directed, normally cures chlamydia infections. If antibiotics are not taken properly, the infection will not be cured. Prompt treatment prevents the spread of the infection and reduces the risk of complications, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
Avoid sexual contact or use condoms until you and your partner have finished the full course of medicine.
Call your doctor if symptoms continue or new symptoms develop 3 to 4 weeks after treatment. To prevent reinfection, your sex partners need to be tested and treated.
Some types of chlamydia can't be treated by (are resistant to) certain antibiotics. If your doctor finds that your chlamydia is resistant to the drug you are taking, you will be tested so that your doctor can prescribe another antibiotic to cure the infection.
Treatment in a hospital with intravenous (IV) medicines may be needed for women who have pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and men who have epididymitis. In many cases, these conditions can be treated outside of the hospital with oral antibiotics and close follow-up by your doctor.
Untreated chlamydia can cause complications, such as an abscess. Surgery may be used to drain or remove the abscess.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2017). Chlamydia—CDC fact sheet. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stdfact-chlamydia.htm.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2014). Chlamydia and gonorrhea screening: Final recommendation statement. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Document/RecommendationStatementFinal/chlamydia-and-gonorrhea-screening. Accessed October 14, 2014.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015). Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2015. MMWR, 64(RR-03): 1–137. http://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015. Accessed July 2, 2015. [Erratum in MMWR, 64(33): 924. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6433a9.htm?s_cid=mm6433a9_w. Accessed January 25, 2016.]
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Chlamydial infections section of Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2010. MMWR, 59(RR-12): 44–49. Also available online: http://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment/2010/default.htm.
Other Works Consulted
American Academy of Pediatrics (2015). Chlamydia trachomatis. In DW Kimberlin et al., eds., Red Book: 2015 Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases, 30th ed., pp. 288–293. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
Horner P (2010). Chlamydia (uncomplicated, genital), search date September 2009. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2008). Behavioral Counseling to Prevent Sexually Transmitted Infections: Recommendation Statement. Available online: http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf08/sti/stirs.htm.
Current as of:
October 11, 2018
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Sarah Marshall MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineDevika Singh MD, MPH - Infectious Disease
Current as of:
October 11, 2018
Medical Review:Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Devika Singh MD, MPH - Infectious Disease
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
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