Untreated chlamydia in men and women

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on May 15, 2020. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


You may have heard about chlamydia, but what you might not know about this sexually transmitted disease (STD) is its long-term health consequences if it isn’t treated. That’s what you’ll learn more about here—plus who’s especially at risk of chlamydia, possible symptoms, prevention, and more—so continue reading.


Regular STI testing can help prevent the long-term health consequences of untreated chlamydia. Take the Everlywell at-home Chlamydia & Gonorrhea Test for an easy, private check.


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What is chlamydia?

Chlamydia, a kind of bacterial infection, is one of the most common STDs in both men and women in the United States. As of 2018, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates more than 2.86 million chlamydia infections occur in the United States each year. However, only about 1.76 million of those are reported to the CDC.

The illness is so prevalent (and underreported) because, like asymptomatic herpes, it often doesn’t come with any noticeable symptoms. This means that you can have chlamydia and not realize it, making it easy to unknowingly spread the infection to sex partners. That’s one reason why routine screening for STDs like chlamydia is important. (Test for chlamydia from the privacy of home)

How do people get chlamydia?

You can contract a chlamydial infection through sexual contact—including genital, anal, and oral sex.

Additionally, if you’re pregnant, chlamydia can spread to your baby during vaginal delivery. When your baby comes into contact with infected tissue, they can develop blindness, pneumonia, or other serious complications. That’s why specific chlamydia screening guidelines have been recommended for pregnant women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • All pregnant women under age 25 should be screened for chlamydia—as well as women over age 25 who are at increased risk of infection
  • Women under age 25 or who are at increased risk should be re-tested during the third trimester

Who can be infected with chlamydia?

Anyone who is sexually active can contract chlamydia. However, this bacterial infection is most common among young adults, especially those between the ages of 15 and 24. Estimates suggest 1 in 20 sexually active young women in this age group have this STD. Men who have sex with men are also more likely to have chlamydia. Fortunately, using protection during sex—like a latex condom—can significantly lower the risk of infection.

What are the symptoms of chlamydia?

If you experience chlamydia symptoms, you’ll likely notice them within one to three weeks of exposure to the bacteria. Chlamydia symptoms will vary depending on whether you’re a man or a woman.

Men may notice:

  • Burning or itching of the genitals
  • Clear or cloudy genital discharge
  • Pain and/or swelling of the testicles
  • Pain or burning sensation during urination

Women may experience:

  • Abnormal vaginal discharge that may or may not have an odor
  • Itching or burning in or around the vaginal area when urinating
  • Pain during periods, sex, and/or urination
  • Vaginal bleeding between menstrual periods or after sexual activity

Keep in mind, though, that while it’s certainly possible to have these symptoms, you may not notice anything out of the ordinary if you have an asymptomatic chlamydia infection. However, that doesn’t mean the infection isn’t causing harm to your health. In fact, when left untreated for too long, this STD can cause serious issues.

Untreated chlamydia in men and women: how it can affect your health

If a chlamydial infection isn’t detected and treated promptly, it can harm your health—even if you didn’t experience symptoms when the infection first began.

Untreated chlamydia in men can lead to:

  • Nongonococcal urethritis (NGU), or an infection of the urethra (the tube that urine passes through) that can cause symptoms like painful or frequent urination, abnormal genital discharge, and more
  • Epididymitis, or an infection of the epididymis (the tube carrying sperm from the testes), which can result in testicular pain and swelling
  • Proctitis, or inflammation of the rectum

Untreated chlamydia in women may lead to:

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can cause chronic pelvic pain and infertility
  • Ectopic pregnancy, which occurs when a fertilized egg implants and grows outside of the uterus, often in a fallopian tube
  • Preterm birth in pregnant women—as well as eye infection, blindness, or pneumonia in babies born through vaginal delivery

Testing for chlamydia

Getting tested is important, as your symptoms may be related to another health issue or STD. (For example, trichomoniasis symptoms in men and women often mirror those of chlamydia.) Taking a chlamydia test can help you find out if you have this particular STD.

  • You can make an appointment with your healthcare provider for testing (or visit a clinic in your area that offers STD testing services). They may use a cotton swab to collect a sample from your urethra (if you’re a man) or your cervix (if you’re a woman). Your provider will then send your sample to a laboratory for testing. If your provider doesn’t perform a swab test, they may instead request a urine sample to check for signs of a sexually transmitted infection.
  • If you prefer a home testing option, consider using the Everlywell at-home Chlamydia & Gonorrhea Test. This test only requires a urine sample, and everything you need to collect your sample and send it to a lab comes with the kit (including a prepaid shipping label). If you get a positive result on our test, you can speak with a physician in our independent physician network—and may be prescribed medication to treat the infection, if appropriate.

Both of these options can provide you with an accurate diagnosis—and whether your result is positive or negative, you’ll have the information you need to take the next step.

How is chlamydia treated?

If your chlamydia test results come back positive, the next step is to receive treatment for this STD.

In general, oral antibiotics are prescribed to treat the infection. It’s important to finish the full course of antibiotics—even if your symptoms go away early on during treatment. Also, your healthcare provider may recommend that your sexual partner receives treatment for chlamydia, as well.

If you have any specific questions about your treatment, be sure to ask your healthcare provider for more information.

How can you prevent chlamydia?

Whether or not you’ve had chlamydia before, you can take simple actions to protect your sexual health going forward.

  • Unprotected sex is one of the main ways this STD is transmitted, so use protection (like a condom) every time you have sex.
  • Routinely screen for STDs like chlamydia (at-home testing makes this easy to do).
  • If you have a new sex partner, consider talking with them about both of you getting tested so you can enjoy physical intimacy with greater peace of mind.
  • Speak with your healthcare provider—and consider getting tested—if you’re experiencing symptoms of this or any other STD.

To easily test for chlamydia from the privacy of home, take the Everlywell at-home Chlamydia & Gonorrhea Test. You can also check for 6 common sexually transmitted infections (including chlamydia) with the Everlywell at-home STD Test for men or women.

What does an itchy urethra in males mean?


References

1. Chlamydia trachomatis - Symptoms and Causes. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed May 15, 2020.

2. Chlamydia - CDC Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed May 15, 2020.

3. Screening Recommendations and Considerations Referenced in Treatment Guidelines and Original Sources. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed May 15, 2020.

4. Chlamydia Infections. MedlinePlus. URL. Accessed May 15, 2020.

5. Nongonococcal Urethritis (NGU). StatPearls. URL. Accessed May 15, 2020.

6. Hamlyn E, Taylor C. Sexually transmitted proctitis. Postgrad Med J. 2006;82(973):733‐736. doi:10.1136/pmj.2006.048488

7. Chlamydia - CDC Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed May 15, 2020.

8. Chlamydia trachomatis - Diagnosis and Treatment. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed May 15, 2020.

9. Chlamydial Infections in Adolescents and Adults. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed May 15, 2020.

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