Everything You Should Know About Chlamydia

Understanding Chlamydia Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Woman at the Gynecologist
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Chlamydia is one of the most common STDs, particularly among college-aged men and women. Fortunately, unlike in the old days, it's now quite easy and painless to get tested and treated for a chlamydia infection. In recent years, tests have been developed that can detect chlamydia and be completed in just a few hours. They can even be performed via a urine sample. These days, there's no swab required when you go get a test for chlamydia.

What Are Some of the Symptoms of Chlamydia?

Many people with chlamydia infections will not have any symptoms. That is why regular STD screening is so important. Getting a test for chlamydia is the only way to identify and effectively treat it—just like with many bacterial STDs. However, some people do experience symptoms of chlamydia.

For women, the most common chlamydia symptoms are burning during urination, abnormal vaginal discharge, and pain during intercourse. However, up to 75 percent of women with chlamydia show no symptoms when they first become infected.

For men, the most common chlamydia symptoms are pain on urination and discharge from the head of the penis (the urethra.) However, up to half of men with chlamydia show no symptoms when they first become infected.

Because chlamydia symptoms are not specific to the disease, a doctor can't diagnose you without testing. Therefore, if you go to a doctor with any of the above symptoms, they will most likely test you for several STDs.

How to Test for Chlamydia

The way that doctors test for chlamydia is somewhat different for women and men. This is due to the locations that chlamydia infects in men and women. 

For women: Your gynecologist will most likely use a speculum so she can see your cervix. Then she will take a small swab to get a sample from your cervix that she can send to the lab.

Despite the similarities, this is not the same as a Pap smear. Both tests use swabs to sample your cervix. However, the swabs are looking for different things and are tested differently.

It is possible to test for chlamydia on a urine sample. However, not all doctors are willing to perform urine tests on women. Many prefer to use cervical samples, as they have historically been thought to provide more accurate results. That said, if you are less likely to get a chlamydia test if it requires a swab, ask for a urine test. They may not be quite as reliable as swabs, but they are still very good tests. 

For men: Your doctor will either ask you for a urine sample or sample inside the head of your penis with a small swab. This sample is then sent to a lab for analysis. Not all doctors perform urine tests for chlamydia. However, you should feel comfortable asking whether or not getting a urine test for chlamydia is an option. You can also call your doctor in advance to see if urine testing is available.

For both: If you have receptive anal sex, you should inform your doctor so that he or she can take a swab sample from your rectum for analysis.The same is true if you have unprotected oral sex.

An oral chlamydia test isn't always recommended, but it's good for your doctor to know you are at risk. 

How Often Should You Get Tested?

Because chlamydia is asymptomatic, it is important to get tested for chlamydia on a regular basis if you are at risk of the disease. How often you need to be tested depends upon your risk factors. Therefore, you should talk to your doctor about how she thinks you needed to be screened for chlamydia.

Risk factors for chlamydia infection include:

    How Is Chlamydia Treated?

    Doctors use an antibiotic treatment for chlamydia. Once treated with prescription antibiotics, the infection usually clears up in one to two weeks. During this period, however, you are still potentially infectious and should continue to use safer sex precautions. This will protect both you and your partner from new infections.

    Beyond treatment, if you are diagnosed with chlamydia, the first thing you should do is talk to your partner. It is important that all of your current sexual partners be screened and treated for chlamydia. If they aren’t, you could end up passing the infection back and forth. You are also encouraged to inform any previous partners who might have been exposed to the infection so that they and their partners can be treated.

    Some municipalities require that notification be sent to all your current and previous sexual partners to inform them that they may have been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease. If you are unwilling or unable to notify them yourself, notification may be done anonymously by the state.

    Sources:

    Frati ER, Fasoli E, Martinelli M, Colzani D, Bianchi S, Carnelli L, Amendola A, Olivani P, Tanzi E. Sexually Transmitted Infections: A Novel Screening Strategy for Improving Women's Health in Vulnerable Populations. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Jun 20;18(6). pii: E1311. doi: 10.3390/ijms18061311.

    Mustanski B, Feinstein BA, Madkins K, Sullivan P, Swann G. Prevalence and Risk Factors for Rectal and Urethral Sexually Transmitted Infections From Self-Collected Samples Among Young Men Who Have Sex With Men Participating in the Keep It Up! 2.0 Randomized Controlled Trial. Sex Transm Dis. 2017 Aug;44(8):483-488. doi: 10.1097/OLQ.0000000000000636.

    Van Der Pol B, Williams JA, Fuller D, Taylor SN, Hook EW 3rd. Combined Testing for Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Trichomonas by Use of the BD Max CT/GC/TV Assay with Genitourinary Specimen Types. J Clin Microbiol. 2016 Dec 28;55(1):155-164. doi: 10.1128/JCM.01766-16.

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