Words: Claire Chamberlain
Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the UK. It affects both sexes, although women are more at risk. If caught early chlamydia is easily cured, but unfortunately it often produces no symptoms in either men or women so it can remain undetected. If left untreated it can have serious complications, so if you are at risk of chlamydia it's important that you get tested.
We speak to Abbas Kanani, pharmacist at Chemist Click about chlamydia causes, symptoms and treatment options:
What is chlamydia?
Chlamydia is caused by the bacteria chlamydia trachomatis. The reason for its prevalence – especially among young adults under the age of 25 – is that most people don't know they have it, meaning it spreads easily as a result.
‘Chlamydia is transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse with somebody who has the infection, or via with their genital fluid, for example ingesting genital fluids or genital fluids coming into with the eye,’ explains Kanani. ‘Chlamydia can also be caught if your genitals come into with an infected person’s genitals, even if there is no penetration.’
Chlamydia – signs and symptoms in women
Symptoms can arrive 1–3 weeks after contracting chlamydia, but for some people it can take months, or becomes apparent when the infection spreads to other parts of your body.
‘Most women do not typically display symptoms of chlamydia,’ reveals Kanani. However, around three in every 10 women do experience symptoms, which may include:
- Pain when urinating
- Vaginal discharge
- Lower abdominal or pelvic pain
- Sex that is painful
- Bleeding after sex
- Vaginal bleeding
Chlamydia – signs and symptoms in men
For men, symptoms present themselves more than for women. ‘Around half of men who have chlamydia display symptoms,’ says Kanani. These may include:
- Pain when urinating
- Discharge from the penis
- A burning or itchy sensation around the urethra
- Testicles that are swollen or tender
How do you know you have chlamydia?
The only way to discover whether or not you have chlamydia is to get tested. Testing for it is quick and painless, and it can be treated with a course of antibiotics.
‘Testing involves providing a urine sample that is analysed in a laboratory for the Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria,’ explains Kanani. ‘This can be done by visiting a sexual health clinic, seeing your GP, or by ordering an STI test kit online. Results typically take a few days to come back.'
Is chlamydia serious?
Chlamydia can become serious if it's not treated early on. Women who are not treated for chlamydia run the risk of developing pelvic inflammatory disease.
'This can affect the reproductive system and may also cause complications when trying to conceive,’ says Kanani. ‘Men who are not treated for chlamydia run the risk of it reaching their testicles, causing inflammation and tenderness. This is not only painful, but may also lead to infertility.'
'Chlamydia that is untreated can also cause reactive arthritis, a condition that causes inflammation in the joints, eyes or urethra,' adds Kanani. 'This condition may affect both women and men.’
Chlamydia treatment advice
The good news is that chlamydia is easily treated with a short course of antibiotics. You may be given a short dosage to take all on one day, or a longer course to take for a week.
‘Antibiotics used in treating chlamydia are considered to be extremely effective, with a 97 per cent success rate,’ reveals Kanani. ‘However, it’s important that the antibiotics are taken in the correct way and that doses are not missed. The two different antibiotics used to treat chlamydia are doxycycline and azithromycin.
'Doxycycline is taken twice daily for seven days. Research has shown doxycycline to be 100 per cent effective in the treatment of chlamydia. The second option is azithromycin, which is taken as a single, one-off treatment. Research has shown that azithromycin has a 97 per cent success rate in curing chlamydia.
'However, azithromycin is usually preferred over doxycycline, as it only needs to be taken as a one-off dose, whereas doxycycline is taken over the course of the week. Azithromycin also has a lower side-effect profile and may be used in pregnancy.’
Chlamydia prevention tips
To prevent the spread of chlamydia try the following:
✔️ Use a barrier method of contraception, such as condoms.
✔️ Have regular STI check-ups. It’s recommended to have an STI test each time you change sexual partner.
✔️ Avoid the use of sex toys that aren't yours, or wash them thoroughly before use.
✔️ Do not have sexual with a partner while you are being treated for chlamydia, until a second test shows you are in the clear.
💡 If you are under 25 and are sexually active, it's recommended that you get tested for chlamydia every year or every time you change sexual partner. Under 25s are advised to have an STI test at three-monthly intervals.
‘Contrary to popular belief, you cannot get chlamydia from toilet seats, swimming pools, sharing towels or clothing,’ reassures Kanani. ‘This is because bacteria are unable to survive outside the human body for prolonged periods, and can only be transmitted when genital fluid comes into with body tissue.’
Sexual health resources
If you think you might have chlamydia it's important that you get tested as soon as possible. For information on where to get tested for all STIs including chlamydia, try one of the following:
- Ask your GP for advice.
- Find a sexual health clinic near you.
- Try Brook's Find a Service tool
- Find contraceptive services near you.
- Call the national sexual health line 0300 123 7123.
- Call Worth Talking About on 0300 123 2930 (for under-18s).
- Some pharmacies also test for chlamydia, so ask in store for details.