With around 2.8 million new cases every year, chlamydia is the most commonly reported sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the United States, reports the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the disease is most common in young women, but it can affect anyone of any age.
Although it is curable, chlamydia should be taken seriously because it can cause infertility and painful symptoms.
According to the NIAID, about 70 percent of chlamydia cases have no symptoms, especially in the early stages of infection. Because most cases do not show clear signs, anyone who might have been exposed to the disease should be tested immediately.
In cases that do show symptoms, most patients have painful urination and discharge from the penis or vagina. Other symptoms of chlamydia infection include lower stomach pain, pain in the testicles for men, and painful sex and irregular bleeding in women.
Doctors typically test for chlamydia through laboratory tests. Lab tests are usually needed because chlamydia symptoms may not be visible, and when they are, they are similar to those of other STDs like gonorrhea.
There are two main types of lab tests for the disease: a swab of the penis or vagina and a urine test.
In a swab test, the doctor takes a fluid sample from the cervix in women or the urethra in men and tests for the presence of chlamydia bacteria.
A urine test is less invasive and requires a urine sample from the patient, which is then analyzed in a lab for chlamydia. Results can come back in as little as 24 hours.
If the test results indicate chlamydia infection, the doctor will likely diagnose it and begin treatment.
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection. As such, doctors usually prescribe antibiotics, which fight bacteria, to treat chlamydia.
Doses of antibiotics vary in strength and required duration. Azithromycin (brand name Zmax), for example, is a stronger, one-day dose, while doxycycline (brand name Oracea) is taken for around a week.
With medication, the infection usually clears up quickly. During treatment, patients should not have sex so they do not spread the disease. They should also notify any sexual partners so they can also seek treatment.
Chlamydia is an STD, so it is spread through sexual contact — vaginal, oral or anal. In some cases, however, pregnant women can spread the infection to their babies during delivery.
Prevention of chlamydia is similar to that of any STD — not having sex is the most certain way to prevent the disease, but properly used condoms and regular screenings are also effective.
Screenings for chlamydia do not prevent chlamydia, but they can help prevent it from spreading.
Chlamydia is a curable disease that usually resolves within two weeks. During that time, patients should not have sex. They should also take medicines exactly as the doctor prescribes.
Immediate treatment of chlamydia is essential. Women can develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) as a result of an untreated chlamydia infection.
PID, a reproductive organ infection, can cause scarring that prevents fertilization and safe pregnancy.
Help is readily available for chlamydia. Primary care doctors will usually be able to diagnose chlamydia and prescribe the proper antibiotics for treatment.
The CDC recommends that sexually active women younger than 25, pregnant women and people with risk factors like engaging in unprotected sex or having sex with multiple partners get screened for chlamydia.
Mayo Clinic, “Chlamydia”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Chlamydia”
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “Chlamydia”