Chlamydia is a bacterial infection which is sexually transmitted, and the body can react to it in a number of ways.
Sometimes, it causes no noticeable signs whatsoever, meaning someone can carry the infection and pass it on to other sexual partners without knowing.
In those instances where chlamydia does cause symptoms, these can vary significantly depending on the sex of the person infected, and the site of infection.
How often is chlamydia symptomless?
It is estimated that roughly seven in ten female instances of chlamydia cause no symptoms, and that half of male instances are symptomless. As such, the name ‘chlamydia’ is derived from the ancient Greek word ‘cloak’, which is another term for ‘invisible’.
The absence of symptoms should never be taken as harmless. Even asymptomatic cases of chlamydia pose a health risk. The infection can still be passed on to others, and it can still lead to the development of complications.
So in those instances where someone either knows that they have been exposed to the infection or thinks that they could have been, but no signs are present, they should still get tested at the earliest possible opportunity.
Chlamydia symptoms in women
Where chlamydia does present symptoms, in women these may include:
- urinary pain
- abnormal vaginal discharge
- stomach or pelvic pain
- bleeding and pain during or after sex
- intermenstrual bleeding
- or heavy menstrual bleeding
Chlamydia symptoms in men
In men, chlamydia symptoms may include:
- testicular pain
- urethral pain, irritation or burning
- urinary pain
- or penile discharge
Can chlamydia cause symptoms in parts of the body besides the genitals?
Yes. Whether someone experiences these depends on the nature of transmission and the site of infection.
For instance, someone may develop chlamydial conjunctivitis if their eyes come into contact with infected sperm. Symptoms may be ocular redness, irritation and swelling in the tissue surrounding the eyes, and discharge.
Where transmission occurs through anal sex, someone who develops symptoms may notice pain, irritation and discharge in the rectum.
Additionally, oral sex can lead to a chlamydial throat infection. Symptoms in such cases however are rare.
Can chlamydia be mistaken for other conditions?
There are other STIs which can cause symptoms that are similar to those of chlamydia.
For instance, gonorrhoea (which can also be asymptomatic, but is less likely to be than chlamydia) can induce irregular vaginal discharge, penile discharge, urinary pain, burning in the urethra and abnormally heavy menstrual bleeding.
Trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted infection caused by a parasite, also has the capacity to be symptomless. But where it isn’t, it may also cause discharge from the vagina or penis, urinary pain, and discomfort during sex.
However, testing will be able to identify a chlamydia infection if present, and enable a practitioner to prescribe the necessary treatment. Anyone experiencing the above symptoms should get tested as soon as possible.
How quickly following infection will chlamydia symptoms appear?
The time it takes chlamydia symptoms to develop can vary, and as already noted, they may not even necessarily develop at all.
The Family Planning Association notes that in many cases where symptoms are present, they will develop within one to three weeks of infection. However, it’s possible for them not to manifest until several months following transmission.
In other cases, the condition may go completely unnoticed until it has progressed to different areas of the body. Left untreated, chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (or PID) in women, and testicular infections in men; both of which can have a detrimental effect on fertility.
How do I get rid of chlamydia symptoms?
Those who receive a positive result following testing will be given a course of antibiotics. This may be issued as a one-off dose, or as a 14-day course.
Antibiotics work by stopping the bacteria responsible for causing the infection from growing. They typically do this by preventing the bacteria from producing proteins which they need to keep multiplying, and keep their cell structure intact.
Once the bacteria is unable to grow, the immune system is able to tackle the cells and destroy them.
How long after treatment will chlamydia symptoms go away?
Chlamydia symptoms will typically decline in severity and disappear fairly soon after commencing treatment:
- Bleeding between periods should get better prior to the following period.
- Urinary pain and discharge should get better within seven days.
- Testicular or pelvic discomfort should ease shortly after treatment, but can take a fortnight to completely disappear in some cases.
Where any of the symptoms don’t get better or persist, it’s crucial to go back to your doctor, so that they can assess your case and administer further treatment if required.
Will chlamydia go away without treatment?
No. It is incredibly difficult for the body to get rid of chlamydia on its own, and the risk of the infection causing complications and lasting health issues where untreated is high. Those who do not get treatment also risk transmitting the infection to others.
Persons who suspect they may have come into contact with the infection are strongly advised to get tested for chlamydia and, where necessary, commence treatment as soon as possible, in order to limit the risk of complications.