Chlamydia: Symptoms, treatment and prevention

Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs in Ireland

Written by spunout


Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is caused by a type of bacteria. Many people with chlamydia don’t notice anything wrong or different, as it often doesn’t show symptoms. Chlamydia is Ireland’s most commonly diagnosed STI and most cases occur in people under the age of 25. Chlamydia is easily treated with antibiotics. If you think you might have chlamydia, it is important to get an STI check-up or home test.

What is Chlamydia?

Chlamydia is a common STI that is caused by a type of bacteria. It can infect the cervix (neck of the womb), urethra (the tube through which you pass urine), uterus (womb), fallopian tubes, ovaries, testicles, rectum (back passage), throat and sometimes the eyes.

How do I get chlamydia?

In most cases, chlamydia is passed from one person to another from:

  • Unprotected sex (oral, vaginal or anal)
  • Sharing sex toys
  • Parent-to-baby during delivery

What are the symptoms of chlamydia?

Most people with chlamydia won’t experience any symptoms and this is one of the reasons it is important to go for regular STI check-ups if sexually active. If symptoms do occur, they are more likely to develop between one and 28 days after sexual contact with someone who has the infection. If you have symptoms, how they show will depend on where the infection is.

Chlamydia symptoms in men

If you have a penis and testicles you might have symptoms such as:

  • Discharge from the tip of the penis
  • Pain or discomfort passing urine
  • Bowel symptoms such as diarrhoea, pain, mucus discharge or bleeding from your anus
  • Pain and swelling in one or both testicles

Chlamydia symptoms in women

If you have a vagina and womb you might have symptoms such as:

  • Bleeding after sex
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Change in your normal vaginal discharge
  • Pain passing urine
  • Pain in your abdomen (tummy)

How do I test for chlamydia?

Testing for chlamydia is simple and painless. Chlamydia is diagnosed by taking a urine sample or a vaginal swab. Sometimes a swab is also taken from the rectum (back passage) or throat. Find your nearest Sexual Health Clinic to book a test, or order a test to take at home.

How is chlamydia treated?

Chlamydia infections are easily treated with antibiotics – sometimes a one-off dose. In order to get the antibiotics needed to treat the infection, you will need to be diagnosed by a sexual health practitioner who can write you a prescription. Book your appointment to get a sexual health check-up.

Telling your partner you have an STI

If you have chlamydia, your current partner (or partners) will also be offered testing and treatment. It is important that all of the people you have recently been in sexual contact with are given the option to be tested and treated. Your doctor or nurse will discuss this with you at your sexual health check-up. Read our article on telling your partner you have an STI for more advice.

When can I have sex again after chlamydia?

You will have to wait at least one week after finishing treatment before having sex again. This includes anal, vaginal and oral sex. It is important that you don’t have sex with your partner/s before they are tested and treated as you could become infected again.

What happens if chlamydia is left untreated?

If your chlamydia is untreated, it can be passed on to your sexual partners and cause infertility.

Chlamydia can spread from the neck of the womb (cervix) up into the womb (uterus) the fallopian tubes and ovaries. This is called pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID. PID can increase the risk of infertility and ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy that occurs outside the womb, usually in one of the fallopian tubes).

Chlamydia can spread from the urethra (the tube in the penis through which you pass urine) to the testicles, causing pain and swelling of the testicles. This is known as epididymo-orchitis.

In rare cases, chlamydia may cause pain and swelling in joints such as the ankles or knees. This is known as sexually-acquired reactive arthropathy (SARA) and is more common in people with penises. Sometimes it can cause your eyes to become inflamed (conjunctivitis).

Chlamydia in pregnancy

If you are pregnant and you have chlamydia, it is important that you get it treated to prevent your baby from getting the infection during childbirth. In newborn babies, chlamydia may cause redness of the eyes (conjunctivitis) or inflammation of the lungs (pneumonia).

If you need to be treated while you’re pregnant, your doctor or nurse will make sure that the antibiotic prescribed is safe to take while you are pregnant.

If you need treatment while you’re pregnant, you should make sure that you are retested after finishing your chlamydia treatment. This is to make sure that you have a negative chlamydia test before you give birth, ensuring that your baby will not be infected.

How can I protect myself against chlamydia?

There are many great options to help protect your sexual health, but none of them are 100% effective. Even if you use condoms every time you have penetrative sex, you are still at risk of getting genital warts and herpes, as these can be passed through skin-to-skin contact. Going for an STI check or taking a home STI testing kit with a partner before having sex, can be a great way of protecting yourself and those you have sex with against STIs and HIV. However, not all STI checks check for all STIs, so it is important to speak to your healthcare provider and ask them what is being tested for as part of your screening.

Discussing with your sexual partners the type of contraception or protection options available to you, and agreeing on a type that works for everyone involved can help to reduce the risk of pregnancy, STIs and HIV. Looking out for sores or symptoms on a partner’s genitals before having sex with them can help to identify STIs that they may not be aware of. If you do see any signs that someone may have an STI, do not have sex with them until you know for certain it is safe to do so. Asking someone about their sexual health history is the responsible thing to do before having sex, and it should not be taken as an insult if someone asks you about yours.

Looking after your mental health after an STI diagnosis

If you are diagnosed with an STI, you might feel a mixture of emotions. Unfortunately, there is still stigma in our society surrounding STIs that can cause some people to feel shame about having one. However, like any other healthcare diagnosis, you are not to blame for your STI and have not done anything “wrong”. Being diagnosed with an STI can have a negative impact on your mental health and wellbeing and if you don’t feel comfortable telling friends or family about it, you might feel isolated and alone. If you have found out you have an STI and you’re finding it difficult to cope, there are things you can do to support your mental health.

  • Remember that STIs are common and lots of people have one at some point in their life, even though they aren’t talked about a lot
  • Take time out to do something you enjoy and practice self-care
  • Reach out for mental health support if you need it. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to a friend or family member, our 24/7 anonymous text service, 50808, can help
  • Be patient with yourself and allow yourself to feel your emotions. It’s ok to be upset when you find out you need healthcare treatment. It’s important to take the time you need to adjust

Feeling overwhelmed and want to talk to someone?

If you are a customer of the 48 or An Post network or cannot get through using the ‘50808’ short code please text HELLO to 086 1800 280 (standard message rates may apply). Some smaller networks do not support short codes like ‘50808’.

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