It may not be as gross as other STIs, but left untreated chlamydia can lead to serious health implications. Luckily treatment is simple and painless, so you’ve got nothing to lose by getting tested.

graphic of the sti

Chlamydia: hard to spell, easy to catch.

What is chlamydia?

Chlamydia – aka the clam, gooey stuff and clap slap – is the most common STI among under-25s, with one in 10 sexually active young people currently infected according to the Family Planning Association (FPA).

It’s caused by a tiny bacterium and if left untreated can affect your ability to have children.

How do you catch chlamydia?

Chlamydia is picked up and passed on through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex, as well as through sharing sex toys with an infected person. It affects both sexes, and can infect the cervix, urethra, anus, throat and, very rarely, the eyes.

What are the symptoms of chlamydia?

The scary fact is that most infected people won’t have any symptoms. But if you do develop symptoms, they’ll include a stinging sensation when peeing, and men may have a smelly discharge from the penis and pain or tenderness in the testicles. For women, the obvious signs are cystitis, a smelly vaginal discharge, pain in the pelvis during sex, and bleeding between periods. If the infection is caught from anal sex there can also be pain and discharge from the anus for either gender.

While these symptoms can present themselves within the first three weeks of infection, they can stay hidden for months, if not years.

How is chlamydia treated?

Chlamydia is a common STI, and diagnosis and treatment is straightforward. Go to your nearest genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic, or make an appointment to see your doctor (GP). If you really can’t face anyone, you can also test yourself at home.

If you’re taking the DIY diagnosis route and you’re under 25 your local primary healthcare trust may send you a testing pack in the post for free. You send a urine sample to a laboratory for testing and you’ll get the results by post.

In the surgery or clinic, you’ll either be asked to produce a urine test or the GP will take a swab. For women, this will be taken from the vagina, and men from the tip of the penis. If you’ve had anal or oral sex the GP may take a swab from your anus or throat. The samples will be sent to the lab or examined by the doctor under a microscope, which will give you the results straight away.

Treatment is a course of antibiotics. This can be prescribed by your GP, or you can buy the over-the-counter drug azithromycin, sold as Clamelle.

Do I have to tell anyone about this?

While you may not want to shout it from the rooftops it’s important to tell any sexual partners to avoid re-infection. Chances are they’ll need to be tested and be put on a course of antibiotics, too.

Any diagnosis will be in complete confidence if you’re over 16. If you’re under 16, each clinic has rules about confidentiality and they should make these clear to you if you ask, so you can decide whether to carry on with the consultation.

What if I ignore it?

Ignoring chlamydia can lead to some pretty serious health issues, especially in women. The mildest of these is cervicitis, which is an inflammation of the cervix, and the worst-case scenario is pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This painful infection of the uterus can damage the fallopian tubes and leave a woman infertile.

In some cases, women with untreated PID suffer a ruptured organ in much the way an appendicitis sufferer might. This can be fatal. Contracting chlamydia during pregnancy may also be linked to early miscarriage and premature birth.

For men, leaving it untreated may lead to a painful infection in the testicles and can sometimes reduce fertility. Babies born to a woman with chlamydia may also be born with the infection, causing eye damage or pneumonia.

How do I protect myself from contracting chlamydia?

Using a condom during any kind of sex – vaginal, anal, oral or playing with sex toys – will prevent transmission of chlamydia. However, it won’t protect you during foreplay, so while it may sound deeply unsexy to do so, it’s important to wash your hands afterwards to prevent the spread of infection.

How soon can I have sex again?

Don’t be fooled by the fact that you have no symptoms, make sure you’ve completed your medication and got the all clear from your GP before you have sex again. Most doctors will recommend abstaining from sex for at least seven days while undergoing treatment.

Graphic of Chlamydia by Shutterstock

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By Nicola Scott

Updated on 29-Sep-2015