“Chlamydia is the most common STI which predominantly affects teenagers and young adults under 25. Health professionals are used to carrying out chlamydia tests on a regular basis so there is certainly nothing to be embarrassed about. Safe sex using condoms is the best way to prevent contracting chlamydia, however, if you do happen to have unprotected sex and catch this infection there are effective treatments available to rid the infection and avoid long term complications. Safe sex and STI screening is vital in preventing the spread of chlamydia.”
What is Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI), in fact it is the most common STI in the UK with 203,116 new diagnoses in England and in 2017 alone according to data revealed by Public Health England. These figures are not representative of the many more who do not know they have chlamydia and have not been diagnosed. Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that is highly contagious and is passed on through having unprotected sex. It therefore affects those who are sexually active, and is more common in teenagers and young adults under 25.
Chlamydia affects both men and women and can cause uncomfortable symptoms which may develop into long term health conditions if not diagnosed and treated. The symptoms may be different in men and women and they will not occur straight away, or the symptoms may not show at all and can only be identified through regular testing. Symptoms are usually noticeable three weeks after you have been infected.
What are the symptons of chlamydia?
Symptoms of chlamydia vary between men and women but symptoms will usually affect the genitalia and reproductive system of both genders. However, you can also be infected with chlamydia in the anus, throat and eyes. The eyes will usually become red and inflamed (conjunctivitis) and chlamydia in the anus may cause pain, discharge or bleeding from the anus.
Around 70% of women and 50% of men do not show any signs and symptoms of being infected with chlamydia. So what are the differences between the symptoms in men and the symptoms in women?
Symptoms of chlamydia in women
Women will usually experience the following symptoms:
- Pain when peeing
- Pain in the tummy or pelvis
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Pain during sex
- Bleeding after sex
- Bleeding between periods
Symptoms of chlamydia in men
Men will usually experience the following symptoms:
- Pain when peeing
- Burning or itching in the urethra
- Pain in the testicles
- White, cloudy or watery discharge from the penis
Many of these symptoms can appear but they can be so mild that they are unnoticeable. If there are no symptoms and the chlamydia goes undetected it can lead to more serious complications.
What happens if chlamydia is left untreated?
Complications in women
In women, complications of chlamydia can be particularly serious if you are pregnant. The infection can spread to the womb and can infect the baby during birth causing conjunctivitis or pneumonia. If left untreated it can also cause complications in pregnancy such as premature birth, low birth weight, or ectopic pregnancy.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is another complication of chlamydia in women which can be mistaken for chlamydia as the symptoms can be similar. PID is an infection which affects the reproductive organs and can be caused by bacteria spreading from the vagina to the uterus, ovaries or fallopian tubes, this is usually bacteria from a sexually transmitted infection. The symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease may also not show and can also cause similar complications in pregnancy as chlamydia.
Complications in men
If chlamydia is left untreated, men can experience inflammation of the testicles and the tubes that carry the sperm from the testicles which is known as epididymitis.
Many of these complications can be treated with antibiotics such as pelvic inflammatory disease and inflammation of the testicles, however, complications of chlamydia can also lead to infertility in both men and women, and so catching and treating it early is the best way to prevent serious health conditions from developing.
What is chlamydia caused by and how is it spread?
Chlamydia is caused by the bacteria known as chlamydia trachomatis entering the body through coming into contact with genital fluids such as semen and vaginal fluid. It is spread through unprotected sexual contact (without the use of a condom) with an infected person. There are a number of ways you can pass on chlamydia through sexual contact even without penetration or ejaculation. You can spread chlamydia through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex, as well as genitals coming into contact with your partner’s genitals, and also through sharing sex toys that haven’t been cleaned after each use or without covering them with a new condom each time you use them.
It can also be passed on from mother to baby during birth. Chlamydia cannot however be spread through sharing towels, toilet seats or cutlery, or through casual physical contact such as hugging or kissing.
How to prevent catching chlamydia
If you’re sexually active you should always put in place preventative measures to avoid catching this infection. You should use a barrier method of contraception such as a condom even with your long term sexual partner, but especially with a new sexual partner as your chances of contracting chlamydia are higher. Use male or female condoms each time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex.
You should also avoid sharing sex toys as chlamydia can be passed on through using these too. Limit your number of sexual partners to reduce your chances of contracting the infection and have regular testing for all STIs to catch them early and avoid complications. In women, the hygiene of the vagina may also help to prevent bad bacteria from growing and multiplying so avoid products which reduce the amount of good bacteria in the vagina such as douching.
How to get tested for chlamydia
Getting tested for any STI is simple. There are specialist sexual health clinics which carry out regular testing of all STIs, most commonly chlamydia. So if you’re embarrassed to get tested, sexual health clinics are the best places to visit as they’re trained professionals in this area, and let’s face it, they’ve seen it all before! You can also be tested at your GP surgery if you prefer.
Many people worry about STI screening and avoid it due to embarrassment or concerns about pain and discomfort, but avoiding being tested could lead to more serious problems and even more discomfort. As chlamydia can be symptomless, testing is the only way to know if you have the infection or not, so if you’ve had unprotected sex get tested as soon as possible. You can find your nearest sexual health clinic on the NHS website.
Chlamydia testing is free, discreet and confidential and you can choose to have a male or female doctor or nurse to carry out testing. You can book an appointment at a clinic or drop in where you will provide some details and answer some questions about your sexual history, all of which are confidential. You can be tested for STIs in a number of ways including:
- A urine sample
- A blood sample
- A swab of the urethra
- A swab of the vagina
- An examination of the genitals
Testing for chlamydia will usually only involve a simple urine sample or a swab of the vagina, both of which you can carry out yourself without the help of a doctor or nurse. Chlamydia can be tested in the comfort of your home using at home STI testing kits. So as you can see testing for chlamydia is so easy and discreet and could potentially save you from more serious complications in the future.
What treatment is available for chlamydia?
Once you have been tested and if the results come back as positive for chlamydia you will need to be prescribed a course of treatment to clear up the infection.
Antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat chlamydia and are the most effective method of clearing the infection. The most common types of antibiotics used to treat this infections are azithromycin and doxycycline, both of which you can buy online at Doctor-4-U. Azithromycin is given as a single dose in the form of two tablets and doxycycline is prescribed as one tablet to be taken each day for a week. It’s important to finish the entire course of antibiotics to ensure that the infection has fully cleared. If you’re allergic to these particular antibiotics you should speak to a doctor about alternative treatment.
Can chlamydia come back again?
Yes chlamydia can return even if you have been treated for this infection in the past. Each time you have unprotected sex you are putting yourself at risk of developing chlamydia. Ensure that you take your medication correctly and abstain from having sex until you know for sure that the chlamydia has cleared as you may be at risk of catching it again.
It’s important to inform all sexual partners if you have been diagnosed with chlamydia so they too can get tested and treated for this infection.