Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection spread in infected genital fluids. It is the most commonly diagnosed STI in the UK; in 2016, there were over 200,000 new cases in England. It is particularly prevalent amongst sexually active teenagers and adults in their early twenties.
If you’re concerned about chlamydia and other STIs, read on. Our doctors have put together a guide to chlamydia and practising safe sex.
How chlamydia is spread
The first thing to know is that chlamydia can be spread through a variety of sexual activities. Chlamydia is a bacterial infection and is carried within genital fluids (vaginal fluid and semen); you can contract the infection by coming into contact with these fluids.
Many people think that STIs are transmitted solely through penetrative sex. In fact, chlamydia can be spread through:
- Vaginal sex
- Anal sex
- Oral sex
- Sharing sex toys
- Genital contact
- Genital fluids entering the eye
How to avoid chlamydia
The best way to avoid chlamydia is to always use protection when you aren’t certain that your partner is STI-free.
Vaginal and anal sex
For vaginal or anal sex, you should always use condoms. When having anal sex, lubricant is advised, as this will help prevent the condom from splitting. If you are using latex condoms, you should not use oil-based lubricants as these can damage the condom.
For oral sex, you can use condoms to cover the penis and prevent the transmission of infected semen into the mouth or eyes. Dental dams can also be used for oral sex; these are thin, soft pieces of plastic or latex that are placed over the vagina.
When sharing sex toys, you can avoid the transmission of chlamydia and other STIs by washing the toys between uses or covering them with a fresh condom.
Using condoms and dental dams and being careful about sharing sex toys should protect you from chlamydia. However, even when you use protection infection can still be possible e.g. if the condom breaks.
Familiarising yourself with the symptoms of chlamydia will help you to identify infection in yourself and your sexual partners. Signs of chlamydia include:
- Pain when urinating
- Unusual discharge from the penis, vagina or rectum
- Conjunctivitis (if infected fluid has entered the eye)
- In men, painful, swollen testicles
- In women, pain in the abdomen or pelvis
- In women, bleeding between periods or after sex
- In women, heavier periods
If you notice these kinds of symptoms in a sexual partner, it’s best to refrain from sex until they have been tested and received treatment. If you notice them in yourself, you should visit a doctor as soon as possible.
Complications of chlamydia
It’s important to bear in mind that chlamydia does not always present with symptoms. It’s believed that 70% of women and 50% of men who become infected with chlamydia don’t suffer any symptoms. This is problematic because, when left untreated, chlamydia can lead to serious health complications.
In women, untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can in turn cause ectopic pregnancy, chronic pain, and even infertility.
In men, untreated chlamydia can cause inflammation in the testicles and the tubes that carry sperm from the testicles. In some cases, this can lead to fertility problems.
In both men and women, untreated chlamydia can cause sexually acquired reactive arthritis (SARA), where the joints, eyes and/or urethra become inflamed.
How to treat chlamydia
Chlamydia is an easy infection to treat, and can be completely cured if the necessary medication is taken correctly.
Because chlamydia is a bacterial infection, it can be treated with antibiotics. The two antibiotics usually administered for chlamydia are azithromycin (which is usually taken in one dose) and doxycycline (which is usually taken over the course of a week).
You should take your antibiotics exactly as directed by your doctor. More than 95% of people who take their antibiotics correctly will be completely cured.
Getting tested for chlamydia
To receive treatment for chlamydia you will need a diagnosis. If you are experiencing symptoms, or if you have had unprotected sex with someone who has chlamydia, it’s likely that you will be treated before you receive your test results.
In most cases, a test will be carried out and treatment will commence when the test results come back positive. The test for chlamydia is quick and painless. For women it usually involves a swab of the vagina; for men it usually involves giving a urine sample.
To get tested for free, you should visit your GP, a sexual health clinic, or a GUM clinic. If you’re under 25 you’ll also be able to benefit from the National Chlamydia Screening Programme (NCSP), which operates out of pharmacies, colleges and youth centres. In certain areas, the NCSP also provides free home test kits to under-25s, which can be ordered online (click here to find out if you are eligible).
When to get tested
If you’ve had unprotected sex and you think you might have been exposed to chlamydia or other STIs you should get tested as soon as possible. However, if it’s been less than two weeks since the episode of unprotected sex, you may be asked to take another test at a later date, as infection is not always apparent in its early stages.
For people under 25 who are sexually active, a full STI test is recommended every year, and every time you change sexual partners. Remember that chlamydia does not always come with symptoms so even if you feel completely healthy you may still be infected.
You can order a discreet and easy-to-use home test kit for chlamydia from LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor.
Visit our Sexual Health Clinic and learn more.