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What Is Chlamydia?

You may have heard of chlamydia, but many people are not sure what it is. Chlamydia (klah MIH dee ah) is an infection caused by a kind of bacteria that is passed during sexual contact. It is the most common sexually transmitted bacterial infection in the United States. About three million American women and men become infected with chlamydia every year. It is especially common among women and men under 25.
Chlamydia is

  • more than three times as common as gonorrhea
  • more than 50 times as common as syphilis

Chlamydia can infect the penis, vagina, cervix, anus, urethra, eye, or throat.

What Are the Symptoms of Chlamydia?

Usually, chlamydia has no symptoms. Most people are not aware that they have the infection — especially women.

  • 70-95 percent of women with chlamydia have no chlamydia symptoms.
  • 90 percent of men with chlamydia have no chlamydia symptoms.

If you do get chlamydia symptoms, they may begin in as little as 5 to 10 days after you got the infection.

When women have chlamydia symptoms, they may experience

  • abdominal pain
  • abnormal vaginal discharge
  • bleeding between menstrual periods
  • low-grade fever
  • painful intercourse
  • pain or a burning feeling while urinating
  • swelling inside the vagina or around the anus
  • the urge to urinate more than usual
  • vaginal bleeding after intercourse
  • a yellowish discharge from the cervix that may have a strong smell

When men have symptoms, they may experience

  • pain or a burning feeling while urinating
  • pus or watery or milky discharge from the penis
  • swollen or tender testicles
  • swelling around the anus

In both women and men, chlamydia may cause the anus to itch and bleed. It can also result in a discharge and diarrhea. If chlamydia infects the eyes, it may cause redness, itching, and a discharge. If chlamydia infects the throat, it may cause soreness.

Chlamydia symptoms may only appear in the morning and may be mild, especially for men. That’s why many people do not realize they have an infection. If you or your partner has any of the symptoms listed above, get checked by a health care provider. This is especially important if you are pregnant.

Complications of Chlamydia

Because chlamydia has few or no symptoms, it can sometimes go untreated for a long time. If chlamydia is not treated, it can become a serious threat to your health. Chlamydia may cause PID — pelvic inflammatory disease — in up to 1 out of 5 women who do not get treatment. If PID is not treated, it may affect a woman’s ability to get pregnant. Testing and treatment for chlamydia significantly reduces the risk for PID.

In men, if chlamydia is not treated, it can result in a condition called epididymitis. If epididymitis is not treated, it can lead to sterility. Rarely, it leads to a condition called reactive arthritis. Reactive arthritis causes a variety of conditions, including swelling and pain in the joints that can be disabling.

To prevent these kinds of complications, it is important to get tested any time you notice chlamydia symptoms or when you think you may have been exposed to chlamydia.

How Can I Know If I Have Chlamydia?

A health care provider can do tests to see if you have chlamydia, whether or not you have chlamydia symptoms. Your health care provider may be able to see chlamydia symptoms, such as a discharge from the cervix. Otherwise, the provider may use a swab or other instrument to take cell samples from the penis, cervix, urethra, or anus. You can also have your urine tested.

How Is Chlamydia Spread?

Chlamydia is spread by vaginal and anal intercourse. Rarely, it is spread during oral sex or by touching your eye with your hand. It can also spread from a woman to her fetus during birth. Chlamydia is not passed through casual contact.

How Can I Prevent Getting Chlamydia?

There is a lot you can do to prevent getting chlamydia.

  • Abstain from vaginal and anal intercourse and oral sex.
  • If you choose to have vaginal or anal intercourse, use female or latex condoms every time.
  • Giving or getting chlamydia during oral sex is rare, but you can further reduce your risk by using condoms or latex or plastic barriers.

How Can I Prevent Spreading Chlamydia?

If you have chlamydia, there are several ways to prevent spreading it to other people.

  • Inform your sex partners of the infection.
  • Don’t have sex until treatment is complete.
  • Be sure your sex partners are tested and treated before having sex again.
  • Once you are cured and start having sex again, use female or latex condoms every time you have vaginal or anal intercourse.



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