Where can I get tested and treated for chlamydia?
What is chlamydia?
Chlamydia (klah-MIH-dee-ah) is the most common sexually transmitted
bacterial infection in the U.S. Its full name is chlamydia trachomatis (trah-ko-MAH-tis).
It is a kind of bacteria that can infect the penis, vagina, cervix, anus,
urethra, or eye.
Chlamydia is the name of several types of bacteria. Chlamydia trachoma,
for example, has been a major cause of blindness for centuries. Chlamydia
trachomatis is sexually transmitted. One strain occurs primarily in the
tropics and causes lymphogranuloma venereum symptoms include skin
lesions and swelling of certain glands in the genital area. The other, we
simply call "chlamydia," a very common infection in the U.S.
What are the symptoms of chlamydia?
Usually, chlamydia has no symptoms. Up to 85 percent of women and 40 percent
of men with chlamydia have no symptoms. Most people are not aware that they
have the infection.
When symptoms do occur, they may begin in as little as 5-10 days after
When women have symptoms, they may experience:
- bleeding between menstrual periods
- vaginal bleeding after intercourse
- abdominal pain
- painful intercourse
- low-grade fever
- painful urination
- the urge to urinate more than usual
- cervical inflammation
- abnormal vaginal discharge
- mucopurulent cervicitis (MPC) a yellowish discharge from the
cervix that may have a foul odor
When men have symptoms, they may experience:
- pus or watery or milky discharge from the penis
- pain or burning feeling while urinating
- swollen or tender testicles
These symptoms are like the symptoms of gonorrhea. They are called
nongonococcal urethritis (NGU). Men often don't take these symptoms
seriously because the symptoms may appear only early in the day and can be
In women and men, chlamydia may cause the rectum to itch and bleed. It
can also result in a discharge and diarrhea. If it infects the eyes,
chlamydia may cause redness, itching, and a discharge.
How is chlamydia spread?
Chlamydia is spread by vaginal and anal intercourse. It can also spread from
a woman to her fetus during birth.
How many people have chlamydia?
Three million American women and men become infected with chlamydia every
year. Chlamydia is:
For every person with herpes, there are six with chlamydia.
- four times as common as gonorrhea
- more than 30 times as common as syphilis
- most common among women and men under 25
Is chlamydia dangerous?
Chlamydia is a serious health threat, especially for women.
In women, the infection usually begins on the cervix. It can spread to the
fallopian tubes or ovaries. It may cause PID, pelvic inflammatory disease.
Chlamydia results in 250,000 to 500,000 cases of PID every year in the U.S.
PID can scar and block the fallopian tubes. That can make a woman sterile
and unable to get pregnant. Fertilized eggs may not reach the uterus because
tubes are blocked. If they develop in the tubes, this is called an ectopic
pregnancy. A woman may die if a pregnancy develops outside her uterus. She
usually needs emergency surgery. Women with PID of the fallopian tubes are
7-10 times more likely than other women to have ectopic pregnancies.
The symptoms of PID include:
- longer and/or heavier periods
- more cramping during periods
- abnormal mucus discharges
- pain in lower abdomen
- tiredness, weakness
- pain during vaginal intercourse
- pain during pelvic exam
Chlamydia also makes men sterile. It can spread from the urethra to the
testicles. Then it can result in a condition called epididymitis.
Epididymitis can cause sterility. Chlamydia causes more than 250,000 cases
of acute epididymitis in the U.S. every year. Symptoms include fever as well
as swelling and extreme pain in the scrotum.
Chlamydia may cause Reiter's syndrome usually in young men. Symptoms
usually appear in this order:
Arthritis becomes a disability for about one out of three men who develop
- lesions that form hard crusts on the penis
- ulcers in the mouth or throat
Chlamydia does not only affect women. It also poses serious health risks
Of the estimated one and a half million men in the U.S. who get chlamydia
each year one percent 15,000 may develop Reiter's syndrome. Perhaps
one-third of these men 5,000 will become permanently disabled each
year ome women may be affected by Reiter's syndrome.
How does chlamydia affect pregnancy?
Between 20 and 50 percent of children born to women with chlamydia will be
infected. Every year more than 180,000 babies are born with eye infections
or pneumonia. Chlamydia is the leading cause of neonatal conjunctivitis
an eye infection that can cause blindness. Symptoms usually begin within
four weeks of birth.
These children can also develop chlamydia pneumonia, a kind of pneumonia
that can be fatal. This infection is harder to treat in infants than adults.
Chlamydia also may cause heavy bleeding before delivery. It might cause
membranes to break early, resulting in premature delivery. It also may be
connected to miscarriage, stillbirth, or low birthweight.
Fortunately, treatment of chlamydia is successful in nine out of ten
How is chlamydia diagnosed?
- examination of the cervix and cervical discharge
- laboratory tests of cells from the penis, cervix, urethra, or anus
- examination of urine samples
Pap tests sometimes suggest that chlamydia tests are needed. They should
not be relied upon as a check for chlamydia.
Gonorrhea and chlamydia may have similar symptoms. It is important to
tell them apart. Certain medications can kill gonorrhea but don't work for
chlamydia. Other sexually transmitted infections may hide the symptoms of
Is there a cure for chlamydia?
Yes. Chlamydia is easy to treat. Both partners must be treated at the same
time. Antibiotics kill chlamydia bacteria. Doxycycline or azithromycin are
the preferred treatments. Azithromycin is taken in one dose. Although
doxycycline costs less, it must be taken for seven days.
Ofloxacin, erythromycin, and erythromycin ethylsuccinate are also
prescribed to cure chlamydia. Erythromycin is often prescribed for pregnant
women and other people who cannot take tetracycline. It is also used to
treat infants with eye infections or pneumonia caused by chlamydia. Your
clinician can help you decide which is the best treatment.
PID is usually treated with medicine. Surgery may be needed as well. But
sterility caused by chlamydia is often permanent.
If you are treated for chlamydia, or any other sexually transmitted
- Take all the prescribed medicine. Even if the symptoms go away, the
infection may still be in your body.
- Schedule follow-up visits to make sure you've been cured before you
have sex again.
- Make sure your partner is treated at the same time so you don't
reinfect each other.
- Do not share your medicine with anyone.
Who is most likely to get chlamydia?
Young adults have the highest rates of chlamydia.
- people who have a number of different sex partners
- people whose sex partners have a number of different sex partners
- people who don't use condoms
- people with a history of other sexually transmitted infections
- sexually abused children
How can people with chlamydia avoid spreading it?
- Inform sex partners of the infection.
- Have no sex until treatment is complete.
- Be sure sex partners are screened and treated at the same time.
- Use female or male condoms every time.
Anyone with a sex partner who has NGU, MPC, or acute PID should be
checked for chlamydia and other sexually transmitted infections. Since
chlamydia infection often has no symptoms, women at risk should ask to be
checked for sexually transmitted infections every 6-12 months.
Any woman who thinks that she or her partner has chlamydia should tell
her clinician immediately. This is especially important for pregnant women.
How can I avoid getting chlamydia?
- Use a female or male condom every time.
- Have routine checkups for sexually transmitted infections.
- Abstain from sexual intercourse.
Does using birth control increase my risk of getting
There is some evidence that hormones in the birth control pill may change
the cervix in ways that make it more open to chlamydia infections. However,
women who take the Pill have a lower risk of developing PID from chlamydia
than women who don't. Nonetheless, women on the Pill should also use a
condom with partners who may have sexually transmitted infections.
Only female and male condoms offer good protection. Spermicides used with
diaphragms, cervical caps, contraceptive foams, gels, and suppositories may
offer some protection.
Women who contract chlamydia while using the IUD are at higher risk of
developing PID. That is why only women in stable, monogamous relationships
are advised to use the IUD.
Where can I get tested and treated for chlamydia?
Planned Parenthood or other health centers, doctors, and health departments
offer testing, treatment, and counseling.
Planned Parenthood® Federation of America is the world's
oldest and largest voluntary family planning organization. We believe that
everyone has the right to choose when or whether to have a child and
that every child should be wanted and loved.
Planned Parenthood.® America's most trusted name in women's
Written by Jon Knowles, Director, Public Information, PPFA Revised by
Jennifer Tierney, Senior Health Writer