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.
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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.
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)
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):
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.
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:
Women may experience:
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.
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:
Untreated chlamydia in women may lead to:
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.
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.
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.
Whether or not you’ve had chlamydia before, you can take simple actions to protect your sexual health going forward.
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.
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