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Understanding Chlamydia Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Updated May 23, 2014

Disgusted nurse holding urine specimen
Grove Pashley/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Chlamydia is one of the most common STDs, particularly among college aged men and women. Fortunately, unlike in the old days, it's now quite easy and painless to get tested and treated for a chlamydia infection. Until a few years ago, doctors would do a chlamydia test by taking a swab from the opening of the penis (urethra) or the cervix, and send it to a lab to see if they could grow bacteria from the sample. This type of testing, called "culturing", could take up to a week to get a result, and it missed many cases of the disease. There are new tests, however, that use different techniques to detect chlamydia and can be completed in just a few hours. They can even be performed on a urine sample. No swab required!

What are some of the symptoms of chlamydia?

Many people with chlamydia infections will not have any symptoms. That is why regular STD screening is so important. It is the only way to be identify and effectively treat many bacterial STDs.  However, some people do have the symptoms described below.

For women, the most common chlamydia symptoms are burning during urination, abnormal vaginal discharge, and pain during intercourse. However up to 75% of women with chlamydia show no symptoms when they first become infected.

For men, the most common chlamydia symptoms are pain on urination, and discharge from the head of the penis (the urethra.) However, up to half of men with chlamydia show no symptoms when they first become infected.

Because chlamydia symptoms are not specific for the disease, if you go to a doctor with any of the above symptoms they will most likely test you for several STDs, not just chlamydia.

How is chlamydia testing done?

For women:
Your gynecologist will most likely use a speculum so that she can see your cervix. Then she will take a small swab to get a sample from your cervix that she can send to the lab. Note: It is important to know that this is not the same as a Pap smear. Although they both use swabs to sample your cervix, they are looking for different things and are tested differently.

It is possible to test for chlamydia on a urine sample, but not all doctors are willing to perform urine tests on women. Many prefer to use cervical samples, since they provide more accurate results.

For men:
Your doctor will either ask you for a urine sample, or sample inside the head of your penis with a small swab (see image). This sample is then sent to a lab for analysis. Note: Not all doctors perform urine tests for chlamydia, but you should feel comfortable asking whether or not getting one is an option.You can also call your doctor in advance to see if urine testing is available

For both:
If you have receptive anal sex, you should inform your doctor so that he or she can take a swab sample from your rectum for analysis.

How often should you get tested?

Because chlamydia is asymptomatic, it is important to get tested on a regular basis if you are at risk of the disease. How often you need to be tested depends on your risk factors, so you should talk to their doctor about how she thinks you needed to be screened for chlamydia.

Risk factors for chlamydia infection include:

  • Multiple sex partners
  • Unprotected intercourse (no condom)
  • Other STD infections
  • A partner who has been diagnosed with an STD

How is chlamydia treated?

Doctors use antibiotic treatment for chlamydia. One treated with prescription antibiotics, the infection usually clears up in one to two weeks. During this period, however, you are still potentially infectious and should continue to use safer sex precautions. This will protect both you and your partner from new infections.

What to do next:

If you are diagnosed with chlamydia, the first thing you should do is talk to your partner. It is important that all of your current sexual partners be screened and treated for chlamydia. If they aren’t, you could end up passing the infection back and forth. You are also encouraged to inform any previous partners who might have been exposed to the infection so that they and their partners can be treated.

Some municipalities require that notification be sent to all your current and previous sexual partners to inform them that they may have been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease. If you are unwilling or unable to notify them yourself, notification may be done anonymously by the state.

Next: Long Term Consequences

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