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Sexual Health Infections

Comprehensive information about the following Sexual Health Infections and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs):

Chlamydia

What is Chlamydia and how is it passed on? Find out about signs and symptoms, testing and treatment and what happens if Chlamydia isn't treated. How to avoid STDs.

Information and advice
Anyone who has sex can catch a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs - and usually goes untreated. Here's how to spot the symptoms of Chlamydia and where to go for help if you think you may be infected.

What is it and how is it passed on?

Chlamydia is one of the most common bacterial sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and is easily transmitted. It usually infects the genitals of both men and women, but can also infect the throat, rectum and eyes. It's particularly common in young people, but can affect anyone who's sexually active.

Chlamydia is mainly passed from one person to another through sexual activity such as:

  • vaginal or anal sex with an infected partner
  • oral sex, although this is less common
  • sharing sex toys

It can also be passed from a mother to her baby at birth.


 

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You can't catch Chlamydia from kissing, hugging, sharing baths, towels, cups, plates, cutlery, or from toilet seats or swimming pools.

Signs and symptoms of Chlamydia
Around 70% of women and 50% of men who have Chlamydia show no symptoms at all; others may have symptoms so mild they aren't noticed.

Symptoms in women:

  • an unusual vaginal discharge
  • pain when passing urine
  • bleeding between periods
  • pain during sex or bleeding after sex
  • low abdominal pain

Symptoms in men:

  • white/cloudy, watery discharge from the tip of the penis
  • pain or a burning sensation when passing urine
  • testicular pain and/or swelling

Testing and treatment
The tests for Chlamydia aren't usually painful but they may be uncomfortable. Either a urine test is done or a swab is taken from the urethra (the tube where urine comes out), the cervix (entrance to the womb), rectum, throat or eye.

Cervical smear tests and blood tests don't detect infections such as Chlamydia.

Chlamydia is simple to treat with antibiotics, either a single dose or a course lasting up to two weeks. To avoid re-infection, any sexual partners should be treated too. If complications occur, another treatment may be needed.

Once Chlamydia has been successfully treated, it won't come back unless a new infection is picked up.

What happens if Chlamydia isn't treated?
Without treatment, the infection can spread to other parts of the body causing damage and serious long-term health problems.

In women, Chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease. This can lead to:

  • ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy outside the womb)
  • blocked fallopian tubes (the tubes which carry the egg from the ovaries to the womb), which can result in reduced fertility or infertility
  • long-term pelvic pain
  • early miscarriage or premature birth

Chlamydia can be safely treated during pregnancy and breastfeeding, but if untreated can cause an eye infection or pneumonia in the baby at birth.

In men, Chlamydia can lead to:

  • painful inflammation of the testicles, which may result in fertility problems
  • Reiter's syndrome (inflammation of the joints, urethra and eyes)

How to avoid STDs

Last Updated: 01 April 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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