Chlamydia: The Silent STI
What is Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is the most common of all bacterial STI infections diagnosed in the UK. It accounts for almost half of all STI cases, with women under the age of 25 being most affected. However, by no means is this STI limited to just young people. Almost 6,000 diagnoses of chlamydia per year were in those over the age of 45.
So we know that chlamydia is quite common. But how do you know if you have it? That is the problem. Chlamydia can often be asymptomatic (without symptoms) for both men and women, making it difficult to realise you have a problem.
Chlamydia in Women
Unfortunately, the bad news is that if left untreated, chlamydia can cause some serious complications for women.
Unchecked chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease. This is a long term complication and can lead to infertility, as well as painful sex. The pain is felt deep inside the pelvis during intercourse and sometimes involves bleeding after sex. It is also often accompanied by heavy or unusually painful periods.
It is also worth noting that if you do become pregnant whilst infected with chlamydia it can seriously affect your baby. The infection can be passed on to the child, causing eye and lung complications and premature birth.
These are the potential signs of chlamydia in women and typically occur between 1 to 3 weeks after infection:
- painful urination
- untypical vaginal discharge
- pain in the pelvic region
- painful sexual intercourse
- bleeding after sexual intercourse
- bleeding in between periods
“The most common signs of chlamydia I see in my patients are bleeding between periods and vaginal discharge. If left untreated chlamydia infection can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease which often first presents as pain during intercourse.”-Dr. Thuria Abduljhbar, e-Surgery healthcare professional.
Chlamydia in Men
It’s not much better for the men I’m afraid. Whilst chlamydia in men typically does not cause symptoms, it can do damage behind the scenes.
If left untreated, chlamydia can cause swelling in the testicles, otherwise known as Epidymitis. If you notice swelling and pain in one of your testicles, see a doctor immediately as it can be a sign of a more serious problem.
Chlamydia can also cause a condition called prostatitis. This often causes pain while peeing and an increased urge to pee. It can also lead to erectile dysfunction due to impaired blood flow to the penis.
“Chlamydia indirectly leading to erectile dysfunction is often overlooked. However, I have seen quite a few of my sexual health patients with this problem.”-Dr. Athra Mahdi, e-Surgery consultant GP
Some of the more common signs of this STI in men are:
- pain when urinating
- white, cloudy or watery discharge from the tip of the penis
- burning or itching in the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body)
- pain in the testicles
So How Do I Know if I have Chlamydia?
The first step is finding out if you have chlamydia. If symptoms are present, they are often not specific enough as some other STIs often result in similar symptoms. The only way to be sure is to be tested. Fortunately, this is quick and easy and only requires a urine sample.
You can find the nearest GUM clinic and find out how to get free testing kits here: Find a Chlamydia Test.
If you think you are at risk of other STIs such as gonorrhoea or syphilis we always advise you do a full checkup at your local GUM clinic. Most offer morning walk-ins without an appointment and you will find out the results anonymously within a few days.
I have chlamydia! What now?
Don’t worry, this is an infection that is relatively easy to treat. The most important thing to remember is to get treatment as soon as possible.
The first line recommended treatment is now Doxycycline 100mg tablets taken twice daily and used for 7 days.
Azithromycin is also a recommended antibiotic for treating chlamydia. However, the dose has changed from just 1g in one go to 1g on the first day, then 500mg for the next two days to make a 3 day course. Keep in mind that you can still pass on the infection for 7 days. Therefore it’s advised to not have sex during this time, you can also use condoms to reduce the risk of passing the infection to your partner. Find out more about the differences between Doxycycline and Azithromycin.
Once you are certain you have an infection (either through a positive test or your sexual partner testing positive), you can request antibiotic tablets from your GP, GUM clinic or a registered online pharmacy such as e-Surgery.
Remember that after treatment it is advised to abstain from sex for 7 days. As always be sure to practice safe sex to prevent reinfection!
Do You Still Have Questions?
Anything we didn’t answer? Speak to one of our experienced Pharmacists using our Ask a Pharmacist service absolutely free.
- Chlamydia | NHS
- Find Sexual Health Information And Support Services | NHS
- Doxycycline | Drugs.com
- Azithromycin | National Institute For Health And Care Excellence