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Chlamydia

Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the UK.

Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the UK.

It’s passed on from one person to another through unprotected sex (sex without a condom).

In 2012, 206,912 people tested positive for chlamydia in England. 64% of people diagnosed with chlamydia were under 25 years old.

Read more information about the causes of chlamydia.

Chlamydia symptoms

Most people who have chlamydia don’t notice any symptoms, and so don't know they have it. Research suggests that 50% of men and 70-80% of women don't get symptoms at all with a chlamydia infection. 

Symptoms of chlamydia could be pain when you urinate (pee), unusual discharge from the penis, vagina or rectum or, in women, bleeding between periods or after sex.

Read more information about chlamydia symptoms.

Getting tested for chlamydia

Testing for chlamydia is done with a urine test or a swab test. You don't always have to have a physical examination by a nurse or doctor.

Anyone can get a free and confidential chlamydia test at a sexual health clinic, a GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinic or a GP surgery. Find out more about getting a chlamydia test.

People under 25 years old can also get tested by the National Chlamydia Screening Programme (NCSP). This is often in places such as pharmacies, contraception clinics or colleges.

You can also buy chlamydia testing kits to do at home, however, the accuracy of these tests varies. If you use one of these tests, talk to your pharmacist or GP.

Read more information about diagnosing chlamydia.

Treating chlamydia

Chlamydia is easily treated with antibiotics. You may be given a single dose, or a longer course of antibiotics to take for a week.

Read more information about treating chlamydia.

If chlamydia isn’t treated, the infection can sometimes spread to other parts of your body and lead to serious long-term health problems such as pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility (not being able to have children).

Read more information about complications of chlamydia.

The National Chlamydia Screening Programme

Chlamydia is most common in people under 25 years old, although people of any age can get it. If you are under 25, you can get a free, confidential chlamydia test under the National Chlamydia Screening Programme (NCSP). This offers tests in various places, including some pharmacies. Find your nearest NCSP testing site.

Some NCSP areas may also send chlamydia testing kits to you through the post. You can request these online. Find out about free online chlamydia tests for under 25s.

Find out answers to some common questions about chlamydia:


Content Supplied by NHS Choices

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is caused by bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis. Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI), which means that you get it through having unprotected sex.

Chlamydia is caused by bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis.

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI), which means that you get it through having unprotected sex (sex without a condom) with someone who has chlamydia.

How you get chlamydia

You can get chlamydia through: 

  • unprotected vaginal sex
  • unprotected anal sex
  • unprotected oral sex
  • your genitals coming into contact with your partner's genitals
  • sharing sex toys when they are not washed or covered with a new condom between each person who uses them

Sexual fluid from the penis or vagina can pass chlamydia from one person to another even if the penis does not enter the vagina, anus or mouth. This means you can get chlamydia from genital contact with someone who has the infection even if there is no penetration, orgasm or ejaculation.

It isn’t clear if chlamydia could be passed on by transferring infected semen or vaginal fluid on the fingers, or by rubbing female genitals together.

Chlamydia cannot be passed on through casual contact, including kissing and hugging, or from sharing baths, towels, swimming pools, toilet seats or cutlery.

Infected semen or vaginal fluid can cause conjunctivitis if it gets into someone’s eye.

Chlamydia and giving birth

During childbirth, a woman with chlamydia can pass the infection on to her baby. If chlamydia develops in the baby there might not be any obvious symptoms at first. Chlamydia in a newborn baby can cause inflammation (swelling) and discharge in the baby’s eyes (known as conjunctivitis) and pneumonia. The midwife or GP can arrange a simple swab test for chlamydia from the baby.

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Chlamydia

Read about complications of chlamydia, for example pelvic inflammatory disease in women and urethritis in men.

If chlamydia is not treated, it can sometimes spread and cause long-term problems.

This page explains about:

Complications in women

In women, chlamydia can spread to the womb (uterus), ovaries or the fallopian tubes. This can cause a condition called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Women may also develop an inflammation of the cervix (cervicitis), or an infection in the Bartholin’s glands near the vaginal opening. Very rarely women can develop a reactive arthritis.

PID

Chlamydia is one of the main causes of PID in women. PID is an infection of the womb (uterus), ovaries and fallopian tubes. It can cause infertility, persistent (chronic) pelvic pain and it increases the risk of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. PID can be treated with antibiotics, and the risk of infertility is reduced if PID is treated early. 

Inflammation of the cervix (cervicitis)

Chlamydia can cause inflammation of the cervix (the neck of the womb), known as cervicitis. Cervicitis often causes no symptoms, but if you do get symptoms these may include: 

  • bleeding during or after sex
  • bleeding between periods
  • discomfort in your lower abdomen
  • vaginal discharge
  • pain during sex

Blocked fallopian tubes

Chlamydia can spread to cause inflammation in the fallopian tubes (known as salpingitis). This can make it difficult for an egg to travel from the ovary to the womb and can make becoming pregnant more difficult. Find out more about conception and getting pregnant.

Even if a fallopian tube is only partially blocked, this will increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy (when a fertilised egg implants outside the womb, usually in a fallopian tube). Blocked fallopian tubes can sometimes be treated with surgery.

Swollen Bartholin’s glands (Bartholinitis)

The glands that produce a woman's lubricating mucus during sex are known as the Bartholin’s glands. They sit on either side of the vaginal opening. Chlamydia can cause the glands to become blocked and infected, leading to a Bartholin’s cyst.

The cyst is usually painless, but if it becomes infected it can lead to an abscess. An abscess is usually red, very tender, painful to touch, and can cause a fever. An infected abscess needs to be treated with antibiotics. Very occasionally an operation is needed to drain the abscess.

Complications in men

Urethritis

Urethritis is inflammation of the urethra (urine tube) that runs along the underside of the penis. Symptoms include: 

  • a white cloudy discharge from the tip of the penis
  • pain or a burning sensation when you urinate
  • the urge to urinate often
  • irritation and soreness around the tip of the penis

There are many causes of urethritis but chlamydia infection is the most common. If you have urethritis and the cause is not known then this is called a “non-specific urethritis” (NSU). NSU is often treated with the same antibiotics as chlamydia.

Epididymitis

The main symptoms of epididymitis are swelling and tenderness in the epididymis. The epididymis is part of a man’s reproductive system and carries sperm from the testicles. If the testicles are affected it is called epididymo-orchitis.

A chlamydia infection in the epididymis can cause inflammation, swelling and tenderness inside the scrotum (ball sack). A few men will notice that the whole of the scrotum is red and tender. Infection can lead to a build-up of fluid in the affected area, or even an abscess. If left untreated, epididymitis can sometimes lead to infertility.

Reactive arthritis

Chlamydia can cause a reactive arthritis (inflammation of the joints). In some people the arthritis develops as part of a syndrome and they also develop inflammation of the urethra (urethritis) and the eyes (conjunctivitis).

Reactive arthritis is more likely to occur in men than women. Symptoms usually get better in 3-12 months although they can return after this. Symptoms can usually be controlled by painkillers known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen. Some people will need to see a joint specialist if their symptoms are severe.

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