Signs and Symptoms of Chlamydia

two people in bed with chlamydia

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Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. The infection is most common in sexually active people between 15 and 24 years old. You can get chlamydia through unprotected vaginal, anal, and oral sex.

It's important to note that most people with chlamydia don't show any symptoms at all—which can make it hard to realize you have the infection. However, even without having symptoms, you can still transmit chlamydia to others. Untreated chlamydia leads to health problems that mostly affect your reproductive organs.

Because chlamydia can often leave you asymptomatic (or, without symptoms), healthcare providers recommend regular screenings for STIs—generally, once every six months. Not only can this help keep you informed about your sexual health, but can get you started on treatment early if you do have symptoms of an STI or receive a positive test result.

No Symptoms

Chlamydia is often referred to as a “silent” infection. Most people who have chlamydia are asymptomatic. This means that they do not have any symptoms or show signs of an infection during a physical exam at all.

In fact, the most common chlamydia symptom is no symptoms at all. Up to 90% of women and up to 70% of men with chlamydia do not experience symptoms when they have the infection. In cases when symptoms are not present, chlamydia can still be transmitted through vaginal, oral, and anal sex. However, even without apparent symptoms on the outside, chlamydia can cause changes inside the body and affect the health and function of your reproductive organs.

Urogenital Symptoms of the Vagina and Cervix

In some cases of chlamydia, you might experience urogenital symptoms, which are symptoms that affect your urinary and genital organs. If you do have symptoms, it may take several weeks for symptoms to appear after exposure to the infection. Chlamydia symptoms can vary from person to person and range from mild to severe.

Chlamydia first infects the cervix—or the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. If you have a cervix, you might experience symptoms such as:

Chlamydia can later spread from the cervix to the reproductive tract, affecting the uterus and fallopian tubes. When left untreated, chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Although PID symptoms also include pain during sex, you may also experience nausea, vomiting, chills, and fevers. It's important to receive treatment if you have these symptoms because untreated PID can lead to:

  • Scarring of the fallopian tubes
  • Long-term stomach or pelvic pain
  • Increased risk of ectopic pregnancy (a type of pregnancy that grows and develops in the fallopian tubes rather than the uterus)
  • Infertility

Urogenital Symptoms of the Penis

The most common chlamydia symptom that affects the penis is inflammation of the urethra (known as urethritis). Urethritis causes thick or watery discharge and pain while peeing. Discharge from the urethra may be clear, white, or gray in color. If you have a penis, other urogenital symptoms include:

  • Inflammation of the epididymis (or, epididymitis) which may cause one-sided testicular swelling, pain, and tenderness
  • Inflammation of the prostate gland (or, prostatitis) which may include symptoms such as trouble peeing or pain with ejaculation
  • Swelling in the scrotum

Rectal Symptoms

Chlamydia can also spread to your rectum or anus. Transmission can happen directly or indirectly. Direct transmission happens when a person has receptive anal sex with a sexual partner who has chlamydia. With indirect transmission, chlamydia can be transmitted from the initial site of infection (like the vagina) and spread to the rectum.

Chlamydia may also cause proctitis or inflammation of the lining of the rectum, which can produce symptoms such as:

  • Rectal pain
  • Discharge
  • Bleeding

Other Symptoms

Although very uncommon, chlamydia can cause reactive arthritis. This form of arthritis develops about one to four weeks after an infection in another part of the body. In the case of chlamydia, the infection occurs in the genitals or urinary tract.

Reactive arthritis symptoms include joint pain and swelling that affects a small number of joints (less than three). The joints that are most often affected include the knees, ankles, or joints of the feet. In some cases, eye inflammation can also occur as a side effect of reactive arthritis.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Getting tested is the best way to know if you have an infection. You should get tested for chlamydia every six months if you are younger than 25 years old and are sexually active.

Talk to your healthcare provider about getting tested if you have symptoms or are worried you were exposed to chlamydia—or any other STI. Certain behaviors can increase the risk of chlamydia and you should consider getting tested for STIs if you:

  • Have a new sexual partner or more than one sexual partner
  • Are not using a condom every time during sex
  • Have a sexual partner who has chlamydia or another STI

A Quick Review

Chlamydia is an STI that you can receive or pass on to someone else through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Most people with chlamydia do not experience any symptoms. However, if symptoms do appear, they may include a burning sensation while peeing, pain during sex, and discharge from the vagina or penis. 

If you are worried about your risk for chlamydia, talk to your healthcare provider about getting tested and finding prevention methods that work for you.

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