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Home > Wellness Resources > Health Library > Chlamydia
"kluh-MID-ee-uh") is an infection spread through sexual contact. This infection
urethra in men. In women, it infects the urethra and
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
Several types of tests can be used to diagnose
chlamydia. Most use a sample of urine or a swab from the cervix, vagina, or
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.
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
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
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:
Learning about chlamydia:
Living with chlamydia:
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.
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
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
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.
increases your risk of becoming infected with
human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) if you are exposed
to the virus.1
Untreated chlamydia can
cause a variety of complications.
Risk factors for getting
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
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
Low-cost diagnosis and treatment of chlamydia are usually
available at local health departments and family planning clinics, such as
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.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
A doctor diagnoses
chlamydia using a medical history, a physical exam,
and tests. During the medical history, your doctor may ask you questions such
After the medical history is taken:
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
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.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF)
recommends chlamydia screening for all sexually active women age 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.2
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) recommends screening every year for sexually active adolescents and women
up to age 25. Women older than 25 who have high-risk sexual behaviors also
should be screened every year.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.
be cured with
antibiotics. The infection does not cause long-term
problems if it is treated early. But untreated chlamydia can lead to many
Treatment is recommended for:
It is important to not have sex for 7 days after the start of treatment
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
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
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
chlamydia or another
sexually transmitted infection (STI) and spreading the
Preventing an STI is easier than
treating an infection after it occurs.
For more information, see the topic
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
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).
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.
Treatment in a hospital with
intravenous (IV) medicines may be needed for women who
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
chlamydia can cause complications, such as an
abscess. Surgery may be used to drain or remove the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011). Chlamydia—CDC fact sheet. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stdfact-chlamydia.htm.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2007). Screening for Chlamydial Infection: Recommendation Statement. Available online: http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf07/chlamydia/chlamydiars.htm.
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 (2009). Chlamydia
trachomatis. In LK Pickering et al., eds., Red Book: 2009 Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases, 28th ed., pp. 255–259.
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.
Stamm WE, Batteiger BE (2010). Introduction to Chlamydia and Chlamydophila. In GL Mandell et al., eds., Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, 7th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2439–2442. Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
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.
November 7, 2013
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine & Devika Singh, MD, MPH - Infectious Disease
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