Chlamydia

Overview

What is chlamydia?

Chlamydia trachomatis (C. trachomatis) is a bacterium, and C.trachomatis infection is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). Both men and women can get chlamydia. When left untreated, chlamydia can cause:

  • Damage the sex organs.
  • Cause sterility (the inability to have children).
  • Cause tubal pregnancies, which can lead to the death of the mother and child.
  • Cause premature births (giving birth too early).

Can I get chlamydia more than once?

Yes. In fact, repeat infections are very common in those who do not carefully protect themselves from infection.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes chlamydia?

The bacteria C. trachomatis causes infections. The infection is spread during sex or through intimate contact with the genitals or anus.

What are the symptoms of chlamydia?

In women

About half of the women with chlamydia do not have symptoms. When symptoms are present, they may include:

  • White, yellow or green discharge (fluid) from the vagina that may have a bad smell.
  • Bleeding between periods.
  • Itching or burning in or around the vagina.
  • Dull pain in the lower abdomen or pelvis.
  • Pain or burning when passing urine.
  • Painful periods.
  • Pain in the upper right side of the abdomen.
  • Pain, bleeding, or mucous discharge from the rectum.

In men

Most men have symptoms, although some do not. Symptoms include:

  • Clear or white discharge (fluid) from the penis.
  • Pain or burning when passing urine.
  • Pain and swelling around the testicles.

Diagnosis and Tests

How can I know if I have chlamydia?

If you think you have chlamydia, or any STI, contact your healthcare provider. He or she will examine you and perform tests, if necessary, to determine if you have an STI.

To check for chlamydia, a woman is given a pelvic exam. A sample of fluid is taken from the vagina. In men, a sample of fluid may be taken from the penis. The fluid is sent to a laboratory for testing. The cultures can also be taken from a urine test. Your provider will discuss which way is the best way to check for an infection in your particular situation.

Management and Treatment

Can chlamydia be cured?

Yes. Chlamydia can be treated and cured. However, some sexually transmitted bacterial infections are starting to become resistant to antibiotics, and thus becoming harder to treat. Therefore, preventing infection is now of even greater importance.

How is chlamydia treated?

Chlamydia is treated with antibiotic medication, which are medications taken by mouth. Since both you and your sex partner have been infected, both of you must be treated.

With treatment, the infection should clear up in about 7 days. Continue to take your medication, even if the symptoms go away.

Also, never take someone else's medication to treat your illness. By doing so, you may make the infection more difficult to treat.

You should also:

  • Tell anyone with whom you have had sex in the last 3 months that you are infected. This step is especially important because chlamydia may have no symptoms. Women, especially, may not have symptoms and may not seek testing or treatment unless alerted by their sex partners. Abstain from sex until you have taken all of your medication.
  • Get checked for HIV/AIDS and other STIs (syphilis, herpes, gonorrhea).

Prevention

How can I protect myself from chlamydia?

  • Do not have sex with someone you know is infected.
  • Always use a condom during sex.
  • Have sex with only 1 partner.
  • Get tested.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can happen if chlamydia is not treated?

In women

Chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is a serious infection of the reproductive organs. PID can cause:

  • Infertility.
  • Tubal pregnancies, which can lead to death of the mother and unborn child.
  • Inflammation surrounding the liver.

A mother also can pass the infection to her child during birth. Infection in newborns can lead to:

  • Eye infections (which may progress to blindness).
  • Pneumonia.

In men

Untreated chlamydia can cause:

  • Scars in the urethra.
  • Inflammation of the testicles.
  • Sterility.
  • Arthritis (inflammation of the joints).

Resources

Where can I learn more?

CDC Hotline: 800.232.4636

www.cdc.gov/std/default.htm

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/14/2015.

References

  • Geisler WM, Stamm WE. Chapter 13. Genital Chlamydial Infections. In: Klausner JD, Hook EW, III. eds. CURRENT Diagnosis & Treatment of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2007. library.ccf.org (http://0-accessmedicine.mhmedical.com.library.ccf.org/content.aspx?bookid=369&Sectionid=39914790) Accessed 5/4/2015.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chlamydia (http://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/) Accessed 5/4/2015.
  • Planned Parenthood. Chlamydia (http://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/chlamydia) Accessed 5/4/2015.

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