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Chlamydia

Condition Basics

What is chlamydia?

Chlamydia (say "kluh-MID-ee-uh") is a bacterial infection spread through sexual contact. It usually infects the urethra or the cervix. If you treat chlamydia, it won't cause problems. But untreated, it can spread and lead to problems like trouble getting pregnant.

What causes it?

A certain kind of bacteria causes chlamydia. It can spread from one partner to another through different types of sexual contact. This includes vaginal, anal, or oral sex. If you're pregnant and infected, you can pass it to your baby during delivery.

What are the symptoms?

Many people don't have symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they usually appear 1 to 3 weeks after sexual contact with an infected person.

Symptoms may include:

  • Abnormal discharge from the vagina, penis, or anus.
  • Pain when you urinate.
  • Pain during sexual intercourse.
  • Pain in the lower belly.
  • Bleeding between periods or after intercourse.
  • Fever and general tiredness.
  • Pain and swelling of the glands at the opening of the vagina or pain in the scrotum.
  • Conjunctivitis.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and your sexual history. You may also have a physical exam to look for signs of infection.

Several types of tests can diagnose chlamydia. Most tests use a sample of urine or a swab from the cervix, vagina, or rectum.

Chlamydia can cause serious problems but may not cause symptoms. That's why it's a good idea to get tested once a year if you are at higher risk for getting chlamydia. Talk to your doctor about what testing is right for you.

How is chlamydia treated?

Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics. Early treatment can cure the infection and help prevent long-term problems.

To make sure that the medicine works, you need to take all of it as directed. After you start taking the medicine, you'll need to avoid sex for a week.

As soon as you find out that you have chlamydia, be sure to let your sex partner(s) know. Experts recommend that you tell everyone you've had sex with in the past 2 months. If you haven't had sex in the past 2 months, contact the last person you had sex with.

You and your sex partner(s) need to take the antibiotics. If only one person takes the medicine, you may keep passing the infection back and forth.

How can you prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

It's easier to prevent an STI than it is to treat one:

  • Limit your sex partners. The safest sex is with one partner who has sex only with you.
  • Talk with your partner or partners about STIs before you have sex. Find out if they are at risk for an STI. Remember that it's possible to have an STI and not know it.
  • Wait to have sex with new partners until you've each been tested.
  • Don't have sex if you have symptoms of an infection or if you are being treated for an STI.
  • Use a condom (a male or female condom) every time you have sex. Condoms are the only form of birth control that also helps prevent STIs.
  • If you're pregnant, be extra careful. Some STIs can be passed to your baby during delivery.

Vaccines are available for some STIs, such as HPV. Ask your doctor for more information.

Credits

Current as of: November 22, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
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

 

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