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Chlamydia in Women: a Complete Guide

To help women protect themselves against this common type of STD, Flo has prepared a guide that explains the basics of chlamydia.
A woman with chlamydia

STDs are infections that are transmitted from one person to another via sexual contact. Today, there are over 20 types of STDs and chlamydia is one of them.

Whether you suspect that you might have it or want to educate yourself, let this guide help you find all the answers you were looking for.

What is chlamydia infection?

Chlamydia is among the most common STDs in the world. Many people have it — It’s estimated that 1 in 20 sexually active young women aged 14-24 years has chlamydia. 

The main cause for chlamydia is the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis that affects both men and women. The chlamydia infection is easily spread because it often has no symptoms and you can unknowingly pass it to your sexual partners.

Although you don’t have outward symptoms in the early stages, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t worry. If you don't treat it on time, chlamydia can cause infertility or a risky pregnancy.

How common is chlamydia?

Chlamydia is among the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the world. In the U.S alone, over 1.5 million infections are reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year. 

In Europe, chlamydia infection is the leading sexually transmitted disease. It’s the cause of acute morbidity and long-term reproductive health problems, especially in young people. The number of affected people in Europe is constantly increasing, and there are now more than 250 000 new cases each year.

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What does chlamydia look like?

Although few, some of the visible signs of chlamydia in females include: 

  • Cervical inflammation and bleeding: the infection can cause inflammation at the cervix and make the outer portion of the cervix to look red, a condition called cervicitis. This would only be visible if a doctor examines you. 
  • Discharge: some of the signs you have chlamydia also includes a change in vaginal discharge. You’ll notice more discharge than usual, and it may be yellowish or even bloodstained, that may have an odor.
  • Swelling during a pelvic exam: sometimes, during your pelvic exam, your doctor might discover tenderness within the pelvis, especially on touching the cervix. They may also detect swelling of the tubes and ovaries.

What does chlamydia do to your body?

Although chlamydia doesn't usually cause any symptoms, it can be serious if you don't get treatment early on.

The bacteria can spread to your fallopian tubes and uterus. If this happens, it might cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which results in abdominal and pelvic pain. Even if PID does not cause abdominal and pelvic pain, it can still do permanent damage to your reproductive system. PID can lead to an inability to get pregnant, long-term pelvic pain, and ectopic pregnancy.

What causes chlamydia

The main cause for chlamydia infection is the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. The bacterium affects men and women and all age groups, although it's most common among young women. The chlamydia bacterium can live in the cervix and urethra, as well as in the throat or rectum.

Chlamydia trachomatis can cause an infection of the reproductive tracts. Once you know you have it, chlamydia isn't hard to treat. However, if you don’t treat the infection, it can lead to more serious health problems.

All the manifestations of chlamydia infections

How do you catch chlamydia?

You can get chlamydia through:

  • Unprotected oral sex and sex without a condom. You don’t even have to experience penetration to get it as you can transmit the bacteria by only touching genitals together.
  • Anal sex can also get you affected with the chlamydia infection.
  • Sharing sex toys.
  • Infected mothers who have the infection might transfer it to their newborn baby during birth. For this reason, all expecting mothers should double-check for chlamydia with their OB-GYN.
  • You can get chlamydia infection in the eye if infected semen or vaginal fluid getting into your eyes.

You can’t catch chlamydia through kissing, hugging, sharing baths, towels, swimming pools, toilet seats, or cutlery.

Chlamydia symptoms in females

Chlamydia symptoms in females are rare. Roughly 7 in 10 women don’t experience any symptoms. The infection may be asymptomatic, meaning that people don’t know they have it.

If signs and symptoms occur, they usually happen one to three weeks after the exposure, but could start much later. The symptoms are often mild and passing, and easy to overlook.

Some of the potential signs and symptoms of chlamydia include:

  • lower abdominal pain
  • pain during urination
  • vaginal discharge
  • pain during intercourse
  • bleeding between periods and after sex

In some cases, the infection can spread to the fallopian tubes, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). The symptoms of PID include:

  • fever
  • severe pelvic pain
  • nausea
  • abnormal vaginal bleeding between periods

Chlamydia test for women

To diagnose the infection, your doctor can use a few different chlamydia tests. Your doctor will likely ask you about your symptoms and why you think you have the infection. When this happens, it’s important to be as honest as possible.

Your doctor will probably use a swab to take a sample from the cervix and send it to a lab to be analyzed. If there’s a possibility the bacteria is in your throat or anus, these areas may be swabbed as well. Other tests include checking a chlamydia urine test for the presence of the bacteria.

Although many physicians do it, a chlamydia test is not automatically done at the time that a Pap test is done. 
For this reason, it’s important for women, especially sexually active women aged 25 and under, to ask their doctor whether they’re getting tested for chlamydia every year.

If you think you may have been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease, you’ll have to ask for a screening.

The depiction of chlamydia infection

Chlamydia treatment in women

Can you treat chlamydia?

Fortunately, chlamydia is easy to treat. If you suspect that you have it, you’ll need to:

  • See your doctor immediately before the infection does damage to your reproductive organs.
  • Listen to your doctor and take all of your medicine. Even if your symptoms go away, you should finish your pills.
  • Tell your sex partner(s). Your sexual partner(s) should know about the infection so that they too can be tested and treated. 
  • Avoid having sexual intercourse until you and your partner(s) have been cured.

How to treat chlamydia

Since chlamydia is a bacteria, your doctor will prescribe you antibiotics.

In most cases, the infection resolves within one to two weeks.

Regardless of the type of the antibiotic, you and your sexual partners will need to follow the dosage carefully to make sure the infection goes away for good. 

During your treatment, avoid having sex. If you’re exposed, you can get the infection again, even if you had it before. Having your STD treated doesn’t guarantee that the infection will never come back. For this reason, you need to be careful about your future behavior. To prevent yourself from catching it again, get re-tested three months after treatment.

It’s also important to know that having chlamydia can increase your chances of contracting HIV or spreading HIV. If you think you have chlamydia or any STI, it’s important for you to seek help immediately from your healthcare provider or an STI clinic.

To avoid contracting chlamydia again in the future or other types of STD, use a condom every time you’re sexually active. You should also avoid having oral sex or if you do, use protection. Use a condom with each new partner and get tested for chlamydia infection between each new partner.

FAQ about chlamydia in women

When can I have unprotected sex after chlamydia treatment?

Even if you have been cured for chlamydia, it’s not recommended to practice unsafe sex. Having your STD treated doesn’t guarantee that the infection will never come back. In fact, many people become infected with STDs multiple times because they continue to have unprotected sex with partners who have untreated STDs.

If you have a regular sexual partner, you should tell them about your infection so they can get treatment as well. Once you're sure you both got treated, you have to wait until the treatment has had time to be effective before you start having unprotected sex again. 

Why wait 7 days after chlamydia treatment?

If you’re getting treatment for chlamydia, you should not have oral, anal or vaginal sex until 7 days after the treatment is over. As chlamydia is a bacteria, your doctor will most likely prescribe you antibiotics that need time to be effective. 

If your partner is getting treatment, you should wait for 7 days after they take all of their medicine. If don’t wait for the treatment to be effective and have sex earlier, you can get the infection again.

How do you know when chlamydia is gone?

An improvement should take place right after receiving treatment. Some of the changes that you might notice include:

  • The pain while urinating will improve within a week.
  • Your discharge will return to normal.
  • There won’t be bleeding between periods or heavier periods.
  • Pelvic pain will fade away.
  • The pain during sexual intercourse will decrease. 

To prevent yourself from catching it again, get re-tested three months after treatment. This is essential if you engage in sexual intercourse with a partner who hasn’t been tested for chlamydia. 

Can you get chlamydia from drinking after someone?

The belief that you can catch chlamydia from drinking after someone is a myth. In reality, there’s no risk of catching the infection when sharing food, water, or cutlery. 

You can only catch chlamydia during:

  • Unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex.
  • Sharing sex toys.
  • Contact with the genitals of an infected partner.

Can you get chlamydia if you use a condom?

A condom lowers your chances of getting chlamydia if used correctly. 

A correct use of a condom includes:

  1. Putting the condom on before the penis gets in touch with the vagina, mouth, or anus.
  2. Making sure the condom unrolls in the right direction before it touches the tip of the penis. If you notice that the condom is not enrolling in the right decision but has already touched the penis, discard it and get a new one. 
  3. Unrolling the condom to cover the entire penis, down to its base. Keep it on the whole time you’re having sex. 

Can you get pregnant if you have chlamydia?

Sexual health plays an important role in fertility. Many sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can cause scarring and inflammation, making it more difficult to conceive, even after the infection has been treated.

In the case of chlamydia, the infection can damage your reproductive health, if left untreated. The bacteria can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which can do permanent damage to your reproductive system. PID can lead to inflammation, scarring, and blockage in your reproductive organs. In some cases, it can also cause ectopic pregnancy which can be deadly if the pregnancy isn’t removed in time.

How to tell your partner you have chlamydia?

The first thing you need to do when your test comes back positive is to tell your partner. Your sexual partner should know about the infection so that they too can be tested and treated. If you don’t tell them about your condition, you’re risking getting reinfected. 

Here are some tips for handling the conversation:

  • Educate yourself about the STD you're contracted so you can thoroughly explain to your partner what exactly you have, what’s the treatment, and how you plan on keeping them safe.
  • You should inform your current or most recent sexual partner about a positive STD test by telling them face-to-face, or by calling them. Sending them a message is not the most respectful way.
  • When telling them the news, stay calm and collected. Sit them down and tell them you've been tested. Tell them that the results are positive and discuss the next steps.
  • Make sure you keep your partner from getting infected. Use condoms at all times, take antibiotics, and abstain from intercourse during your treatment. 
https://www.cdc.gov/STD/infertility/default.htm
https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/PretermBirth.htm
http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stdsstis/chlamydia/
https://ecdc.europa.eu/en/chlamydia/facts
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3818592/
https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats16/CDC_2016_STDS_Report-for508WebSep21_2017_1644.pdf
https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Chlamydia-Gonorrhea-and-Syphilis

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