Chlamydia: Symptoms, Causes Diagnosis & Treatment

Updated in April 2024

Chlamydia is a sexually-transmitted infection caused by Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria that can affect both men and women, It often presents without any symptoms, however some people may notice changes to vaginal discharge or burning with urination. 

A chlamydia infection can occur following unprotected sex. Men will typically present with an infection on the urethra, rectum or throat, while women will more commonly experience this infection in the cervix or rectum. 

This illness can be evaluated through a symptom assessment of the symptoms, but it a diagnosis confirmed with testing. Therefore, if you suspect you may have been infected with chlamydia, you should see your family doctor or an infectious disease specialist for diagnosis and treatment, which usually involves antibiotic use. 

Heterosexual couple looking at condom package on bed

Main symptoms 

The main symptoms of chlamydia are:

  • Pain or burning when urinating;
  • Vaginal or penile discharge, similar to pus;
  • Pain or bleeding during intimate contact;
  • Pelvic pain;
  • Pain and swelling in the testicles, in the case of men;
  • Bleeding outside the menstrual period, in the case of women.

Chlamydia symptoms may appear 1 to 3 weeks after unprotected sexual intercourse, however, even if there are no apparent signs and symptoms, the person can transmit the bacteria.

If chlamydia infection in women is not identified, it is possible that the bacteria spread through the uterus and cause Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), which is one of the main causes of infertility and miscarriage in women. Find out more about DIP.

In the case of men, if the infection is not identified and treated, the bacteria responsible for chlamydia can cause orchitis, which is inflammation of the testicles, which can interfere with sperm production. See more details about orchitis.

How it is transmitted

Chlamydia is an infectious disease caused by the Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria. It can be transmitted through any form of unprotected sex: oral, vaginal or rectal. People with multiple sexual partners have a higher risk of getting infected. 

In addition, chlamydia can also be transmitted from mother to baby during delivery if the infection is not appropriately treated during pregnancy.

Risks of chlamydia during pregnancy 

A chlamydia infection during pregnancy can lead to premature birth, low birth weight, fetal death and endometritis. Because this infection can spread to the baby during a vaginal birth, it is important to screen for this infection as a part of routine prenatal testing and to follow treatment as necessary. 

Babies who are affected during delivery can develop complications like conjunctivitis or pneumonia. These illnesses can be treated with antibiotics prescribed by the pediatrician. 

Confirming a diagnosis

A chlamydia diagnosis is confirmed by the doctor through evaluation of the presenting symptoms and lab testing. Specimen, like vaginal discharge, perianal discharge or urine, can be collected and assessed in the lab to identify the presence of the chlamydia bacteria. 

Since chlamydia does not present with any symptoms in some cases, people over the age of 25 who are sexually active and with multiple partners should complete regular STI testing.

Once pregnant, STI testing should also be apart of regular prenatal screening, as this way, any risks of transmitting infection to the baby can be reduced. 

Treatment options

The treatment of chlamydia involves the use of prescription antibiotics, like a single dose of azithromycin or a 7-day course of doxycycline. You should continue treatment as indicated by the doctor, even if you do not have any signs or symptoms, as this will ensure full elimination of the bacteria. 

Treatment should also be completed by the sexual partner, even if condoms were used. In addition, you should avoid any sex while treating to prevent reccurrence. 

With the right treatment, it is possible to completely resolve the infection, however other related complications, like pelvic inflammatory disease or infertility, can be permanent. 

Is there a cure of chlamydia? 

Chlamydia can be easily cured with a 7-day course of antibiotics. To ensure that the infection is cured, you should avoid any unprotected sex during treatment. 

People with HIV will be prescribed the same treatment. There is no need for a different intervention or hospital admission.