Chlamydia: The Most Common STI
Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), also called a sexually transmitted disease. It is caused by chlamydia trachomatis, a bacteria that infects the cells of the cervix in women and the urethra in men.
- Chlamydia is spread during vaginal, oral, or anal sex with someone who is infected.
- Most women and men with chlamydia don't have symptoms.
- Teenagers and younger adults are more likely to get it if exposed.
Chlamydia is easy to treat in its early stages. If left untreated, it can cause serious health problems.
For women, it is the leading cause of pelvic infections (pus and pain in the uterus). This can result in pelvic pain, infertility (unable to get pregnant), or damage to the fallopian tubes, which increases your risk for an ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy in the fallopian tube) if you get pregnant. And it can cause serious infections in infants born to infected mothers.
For men, it causes discharge from the penis and inflammation of the testes.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Many people don't know they have chlamydia because there are usually no symptoms. Getting regular chlamydia tests can find the infection early when it can be treated easily.
Chlamydia can be diagnosed with a visit to your health care provider. A lab test is done either from a urine sample or a Pap smear.
Who Should Be Tested?
Sexually active women who aren't pregnant should be tested every year, for ages 24 and younger. If you are over 24 years old and at increased risk (see below), you also should be tested yearly.
Pregnant women age 24 and under should be tested at the first prenatal visit. A second test should be done at the third trimester if the woman has a new sexual partner during the pregnancy. Pregnant women age 25 and older should be tested if they are at increased risk for chlamydia.
You should also be tested if you have a new sexual partner or don't always use a condom when you have sex.
How Can I Get Tested?
Contact your doctor and ask for a chlamydia test. If you don't have symptoms, you can do a self-swab test or leave a urine sample. If you have symptoms pain in your abdomen or genitals, discharge, or urinary symptoms you will need an exam.
If you are aged 14 or older, testing is confidential. Information isn't given to anyone but you. If you are aged 13 or younger, information may be shared with your parents.
What Is the Treatment?
Antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat chlamydia. If you have chlamydia, you need to tell your sexual partner. He or she will need to be treated as well. You and your partner should be treated at the same time to avoid passing the infection back and forth to one another.
What Increases My Risk for Chlamydia?
The following increases your risk for getting an STI, including chlamydia:
- Unprotected sex (not using a condom every time you have sex).
- Sex with multiple partners.
- Situations that increase your risk for unsafe sex (drinking alcohol, using drugs).
- Sex with a high-risk partner (IV drug user, prostitute).
How Can I Lower My Risk?
If you have sex, use a condom or latex barrier every time to protect yourself from STIs. Avoid high-risk sexual behaviors. Talk openly with your partner about what you can both do to lower your risk of getting an STI. The only sure way to prevent getting chlamydia is by not having vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
For More Information
Group Health members who have medical questions or concerns can call the Consulting Nurse Service.
In Eastern Washington, Central Washington, and North Idaho: During office hours, call the medical center where you receive care. After hours, call the Consulting Nurse Service.
Coverage may vary by plan. To check your benefits, refer to your coverage agreement or contact Customer Service.