Chlamydia trachomatis - symptoms & treatments
What is chlamydia trachomatis?
Chlamydia is one of the most widespread sexually transmitted infections (STI) on the planet. While most people have heard of this STI, fewer understand that chlamydia is actually a name for a group of infections.
There are several different strains of chlamydia, one of which only affects swine and another that only Koala’s can be infected with. The strain of chlamydia that infects humans is comprised of a particular type of bacteria known as chlamydia trachomatis. For this reason, the STI chlamydia may sometimes be referred to as chlamydia trachomatis.
Causes of chlamydia trachomatis
Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria live in the genital fluids of an infected person. When you come into contact with infected vaginal fluid or semen (cum, pre-cum or rectal mucus), you put yourself at risk of infection.
How is chlamydia trachomatis spread?
Chlamydia infection is typically spread through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex. When infected vaginal fluid, semen or rectal mucus comes into contact with the body, the C. trachomatis bacteria is carried with it. Most commonly, chlamydia trachomatis infection occurs in the genitals, but it can also infect the eyes and rectum.
How can chlamydia trachomatis be avoided?
To prevent chlamydia trachomatis infection, you should take precautions when engaging in sexual activity. If you aren’t certain that your partner is free from chlamydia and other STIs, you should always use protection.
To avoid infection, condoms should always be used for penetrative sex, and use a new condom each time you have sex. To lower the risk of spreading chlamydia during oral sex, you can also use condoms. Dental dams (thin, flexible, soft squares of plastic) can also be used to cover the genitals during oral sex.
If you use sex toys in the bedroom, be aware that chlamydia infection can be spread if you share these toys. To avoid spreading infected genital fluids, always wash sex toys between uses and partners, or cover them with a fresh condom.
Chlamydia can also be transmitted simply through sexual contact such as rubbing of the genitals. However, you can’t get chlamydia from kissing or hugging.
What are the symptoms of chlamydia trachomatis?
Chlamydia is widespread in part because most people don’t have symptoms. It is thought that half of all men and 70% of all women infected with Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria suffer no symptoms. Not being aware that you are infected means you are more likely to spread it to other people. Suffering no symptoms may mean that you fail to receive treatment, which can increase your risk of developing serious complications.
People who do suffer symptoms as a result of chlamydia trachomatis will likely experience some of the following:
- Pain when passing urine
- Discomfort and/or discharge from the rectum
- In men, pain in the testicles
- In men, a white/cloudy discharge from the tip of the penis
- In women, pain in the abdomen and/or tummy and pelvis
- In women, bleeding between periods and/or after sex
- In women, heavier periods and/or bleeding in-between
- In women, pain when you have sex
When chlamydia trachomatis bacteria gets into the eyes, it can cause conjunctivitis (pain, redness, itching and discharge).
If you notice these symptoms in your sexual partner you should avoid sexual contact until they’ve received advice and treatment. If you notice these symptoms in yourself, visit a doctor as soon as possible.
- Be aware that untreated chlamydia can lead to serious complications such as:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Perihepatitis in women (inflammation/swelling of the tissues surrounding the liver)
- Inflammation of the testicles and the tubes that carry sperm from the testicles
- Sexually activated reactive arthritis
If these complications are not treated, they can lead to chronic pain and problems with fertility.
How is chlamydia trachomatis treated?
To receive treatment for chlamydia trachomatis, you should first get tested. If your doctor suspects that you are high-risk for infection (e.g. you are experiencing symptoms or your partner has tested positive) they may give you treatment before your test results have come back.
Chlamydia trachomatis can be easily cleared up with a short course of antibiotics. Chlamydia treatment for uncomplicated infection usually consists of taking an antibiotic tablet for seven days. The treatment that you receive depends on where chlamydia has been found and your symptoms. If you receive a diagnosis of chlamydia before it has caused other complications, and if you take your antibiotics correctly and you don't have sex with your partner(s) until you're all treated, you should be completely cleared of infection.
People who are sexually active and sleeping with new partners should aim to get tested regularly e.g. every 3 to 6 months (ideally between partners). This applies even if you aren’t experiencing any symptoms. If you’ve had unprotected sex, have symptoms or think you may be at risk of an STI, you should seek medical advice from any sexual health clinic or your GP.
Certain types of the chlamydia trachomatis cause lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV). LGV is usually transmitted through unprotected sex and infects the genitals, anus, rectum, throat or lymph glands and globally is increasingly being identified in gay and bisexual men (especially those also infected with HIV), but in the UK it's not diagnoses often in heterosexual men and women.
Lots of people with LGV don't have any symptoms, but symptoms to look out for include:
- Tenesmus - cramping rectal pain or the sensation of needing to open your bowels.
- Rectal discharge - liquid coming from your bottom
- Diarrhoea or altered bowel habits
To be diagnosed and treated for LGV you must attend a sexual health clinic for comprehensive assessment and testing as it is not appropriate to be managed online via the Lloyds Pharmacy Online Doctor service.
LGV is treatable with a longer course of antibiotic medication.
To get tested for free visit a sexual health clinic or GP surgery. You can also order a home test kit for men and for women from a service such as LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor if you don’t have symptoms.