Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. When transmitted through sexual contact, the bacteria can infect the urinary and reproductive organs.
The term chlamydia typically refers to the STD Chlamydia trachomatis, although two other types of this bacteria also can lead to illness: Chlamydia pneumoniae, which can be spread through coughing and sneezing, and Chlamydia psittaci, which birds can pass to humans. This article refers specifically to the STD.
Chlamydia can be treated with antibiotics but often causes no symptoms, so someone can be infected without even knowing it. Untreated infections can lead to more serious health problems, such as infertility, so it's important for sexually active teens to be screened for chlamydia at least yearly by a health care provider. It's also important for them to take precautions to prevent chlamydia, and if they think they've contracted the infection, to seek treatment as soon as possible.
In many cases, chlamydia causes only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. So an infection can last for weeks or months before it is discovered.
In females, chlamydia symptoms can include:
Untreated chlamydia also can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can affect the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. Sometimes, PID causes no symptoms; more often, it causes abdominal or lower back pain, painful urination, pain during intercourse, bleeding between menstrual periods, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, or fever.
Untreated chlamydia or PID infections in females can cause scarring of the fallopian tubes, which can lead to serious health problems such as chronic pelvic pain, infertility, or ectopic (tubal) pregnancy.
Just as in females, chlamydia might cause no symptoms in males. Those who do have symptoms might have discharge from the tip of the penis and a burning feeling during urination. Untreated infections can lead to epididymitis, an inflammation of the coiled tubes in the back of the testicles. This can result in testicular swelling, pain, and even infertility.
Chlamydia is contagious. It can be transmitted through sexual contact via semen and vaginal secretions.
Chlamydia does not spread through casual contact such as shaking hands or using the same toilet as someone who is infected. If someone is diagnosed with chlamydia, all of that person's sexual partners need to be notified and treated with antibiotics, even if they don't have any symptoms, so that they don't develop any long-term complications or spread the infection to others.
If detected early on, chlamydia can easily be treated with antibiotics and the symptoms alleviated within 7 to 10 days. If untreated, chlamydia can lead to serious complications that can appear months or even years after the person is infected.
Medications are effective against chlamydia; however, once treated, people are encouraged to be tested again for chlamydia about 3 months later. This is because up to 20% of young women are re-exposed to chlamydia and need to be retreated. The most common reason for re-exposure is a sexual partner who hasn't been adequately treated.
The sexual partners of anyone who has (or is thought to have) chlamydia or any other STD should be examined and treated. Those diagnosed with an STD should inform their partners as soon as possible so that they, too, can be examined and treated to prevent complications and avoid spreading the infection.
Because chlamydia is spread through sexual contact, the best way to prevent it is to abstain from having sex. Sexual contact with more than one partner or with someone who has more than one partner increases the risk of contracting any STD.
Once sexual activity is part of a young person's life, it is important to be screened yearly for chlamydia by a medical provider. This is important whether or not symptoms of an infection are present.
In addition, when properly and consistently used, condoms decrease the risk of STDs, including chlamydia. Latex condoms provide greater protection than natural-membrane condoms. The female condom, made of polyurethane, is also considered effective against STDs.
Although birth control pills offer no protection against STDs, they may provide some protection against PID by causing the body to create thicker cervical mucus, making it more difficult for bacteria to reach the upper genital tract.
Using douche actually can increase a female's risk of contracting STDs because it can change the natural flora of the vagina and may flush bacteria higher into the genital tract.
A teen who is being treated for chlamydia also should be tested for other STDs, and should have time alone with the doctor to openly discuss issues like sexual activity. Not all teens will be comfortable talking with parents about these issues. But it's important to encourage them to talk to a trusted adult who can provide the facts.
If your teen is thinking of becoming sexually active or already has started having sex, it's important to talk about it. Make sure your teen knows how STDs can be spread (during anal, oral, or vaginal sex) and that they often don't have symptoms, so a partner might have an STD without knowing it.
It can be difficult to talk about STDs, but just as with any other medical issue, teens need this information to stay safe and healthy. Provide the facts, and let your child know where you stand.
It's also important that all teens have regular full physical exams — which can include screening for STDs. Your teen may want to see a gynecologist or a specialist in adolescent medicine to talk about sexual health issues. Community health organizations and sexual health centers in your area might be able to offer some guidance.
Reviewed by: Nicole A. Green, MD
Date reviewed: March 2013
|Planned Parenthood Info for Teens This site from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America has information on relationships and sexual health for teens.|
|American Social Health Association This nonprofit organization is dedicated to preventing sexually transmitted diseases and offers hotlines for prevention and control of STDs.|
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The mission of the CDC is to promote health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability. Call: (800) CDC-INFO|
|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
|Planned Parenthood Federation of America Planned Parenthood offers information on sexually transmitted diseases, birth control methods, and other issues of sexual health.|
|American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) This site offers information on numerous health issues. The women's health section includes readings on pregnancy, labor, delivery, postpartum care, breast health, menopause, contraception, and more.|
|Sexual Development Changes become more dramatic and complex with the onset of puberty, and kids are likely to have lots of questions. These articles can help you become a trusted source of information, comfort, and support for your kids.|
|STDs In many ways teens today are growing up faster than ever. That's why it's important to talk to your child about sex, particularly sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).|
|Questions and Answers About Sex Answering kids' questions about sex is a responsibility many parents dread. But by answering these questions honestly, parents can help foster healthy feelings about sex.|
|How to Perform a Testicular Self-Examination The testicular self-examination (TSE) is an easy way for guys to check their own testicles to make sure there aren't any unusual lumps or bumps - which are usually the first sign of testicular cancer.|
|Telling Your Partner You Have an STD People who have STDs might feel apprehensive about discussing their disease with a partner. Here are some tips on talking to a partner when you have an STD.|
|Talking to Your Partner About STDs You know you should talk about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) before the action starts, but if you're like most people the thought of having "the talk" makes you completely nervous. Welcome to STD Chat 101.|
|Chlamydia Chlamydia is an STD that often has no symptoms, so lots of people can have it and not know it. Read this article to learn how to protect yourself.|
|Talking to Your Child About Puberty Talking to kids about puberty is an important job for parents, especially because kids often hear about sex and relationships from unreliable sources. Here are some tips.|
|5 Myths About STDs There's lots of misinformation out there about STDs. We set the record straight on 5 of the most common myths.|
|About Birth Control Before you consider having sex, you need to know how to protect yourself. Read this article to get the basics on birth control.|
|About Condoms Talking to your kids about sex can be daunting. But discussing issues like abstinence, STDs, and birth control can help lower teens' risk of unintended pregnancy or contracting an STD.|
|Talking to Your Partner About Condoms Some people - even those who are having sex - are embarrassed by the topic of condoms. Here are some tips for talking about condoms with your partner.|
|Your Daughter's First Gynecology Visit The idea of going to the gynecologist may make your daughter feel nervous. Here's how to make her feel more comfortable.|
|About Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) You've probably heard lots of discouraging news about sexually transmitted diseases. The good news is that STDs can be prevented. Find out how to protect yourself.|
|Pelvic Inflammatory Disease Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a serious infection of the female reproductive organs that may cause severe symptoms, minor symptoms, or no symptoms at all.|
|Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) Pelvic inflammatory disease, sometimes called PID, is an infection of the fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, or ovaries. Learn how to protect yourself.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.