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Understanding chlamydia

Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted infection. Practicing safe sex and getting tested regularly can help keep you and your partner safe from the disease.

Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 4 million infections occur annually in the United States. Many of those who have chlamydia don't know they're infected.

Chlamydia affects both men and women. Because most people with chlamydia don't have symptoms, it's hard to tell if someone (including yourself) has the disease.

If women develop symptoms from chlamydia, they can include:

  • Burning during urination.
  • Discharge from the vagina.
  • Bleeding between menstrual periods.
  • Pain in the lower abdomen or back.
  • Nausea.
  • Fever.
  • Pain during sexual intercourse.
  • Inflamed rectum.
  • Soreness and redness in the throat or mouth.

If men develop symptoms of chlamydia, they can include:

  • Burning when urinating.
  • Discharge from the penis.
  • Burning or itching around the opening of the penis.
  • Less often, pain and swelling in the testicles.
  • Inflamed rectum.
  • Soreness and redness in the throat or mouth.

Get tested

The only way to know for sure if you have chlamydia is to get tested, according to the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA).

Tests can find chlamydia either in urine or in a sample of fluid taken from the penis or cervix.

If you do have chlamydia, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat it. Make sure to take all of your medicine. If you don't, the infection could come back.

You should also tell your partner if you have chlamydia so that he or she can get tested and treated right away.

Complications

Left untreated, chlamydia could cause health problems. In men, the disease could lead to a urinary tract infection, swollen or tender testicles, or, in rare cases, infertility.

In women, an untreated case of chlamydia could cause:

  • Chronic pelvic pain.
  • Infertility.
  • Tubal pregnancy—a potentially fatal pregnancy that requires removing the embryo.
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease.

Getting early treatment for chlamydia is especially important for women who are pregnant. Babies can get chlamydia from their mothers during childbirth. Chlamydia could cause eye, ear and lung infections in a newborn baby. But the right medicine can cure chlamydia and keep it from being passed to the baby.

Not all chlamydia medicines are safe for babies, so tell your doctor if you're nursing or pregnant.

Protect yourself

To keep yourself and your partner safe from chlamydia and other STIs, ASHA and CDC recommend that you:

  • Avoid sex unless you only have one trusted partner.
  • Use a condom whenever you have sex. Have condoms easily available if you're sexually active.
  • Limit your number of partners. The more people you or your partner have sex with, the greater your chances of getting an STI.
  • Talk to your doctor about testing. CDC recommends chlamydia testing for all pregnant women, all sexually active women age 24 or younger, and older women with risk factors for chlamydial infections (those who have a new sex partner or multiple sex partners). Your healthcare provider can determine how often you should be screened.
  • Be honest with your doctor. Telling your doctor the truth about your sex life will help ensure that you get the best care possible.

Reviewed 8/16/2021

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