Chlamydia - symptoms, signs, diagnosis and treatment

Medically Reviewed by Dr Sravya, MBBS, MS 


Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infectious diseases that spread through sexual activity. When a person has vaginal, anal, or oral sexual intercourse with someone infected with an STI, the former becomes susceptible to the infection. Sexually transmitted infections are caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Bacterial STIs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Viral STIs include HIV/AIDS, genital herpes, genital warts, and hepatitis B. Parasitic STIs include trichomoniasis, crabs, and scabies.

Table of Contents

What is Chlamydia?


One of the common STIs seen in humans is chlamydia. It is caused due to the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. As the bacteria is transmitted through vaginal fluid or semen, anyone who is sexually active is at risk of infection. This condition can affect both males and females. Certain groups of individuals are at higher risk, such as –

According to Newman, et al, chlamydia affects 4.2% of females and 2.7% of males all over the world. Infection rates usually are higher than reported, as symptoms are not seen initially. Deaths are rare but have been reported.

Causes Of Chlamydia

The bacteria travels through vaginal fluid and semen. The ways in which infection can occur are –

The infection cannot be transferred through kissing, holding hands, hugging, sharing food, coughing, sneezing, or using a toilet after someone.

Signs And Symptoms

The majority of cases are asymptomatic, i.e., people infected with it do not see any signs of the infection. That is why it is often called a silent infection. Almost 50-70% of patients do not experience any chlamydia symptoms. If signs and symptoms are present, they may be seen several weeks after exposure. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), signs of chlamydia are seen in 10% of men and 5-30% of women.

Signs and symptoms in women are –

Signs of chlamydia in men are –

If the infection spreads to the rectum, rectal bleeding, discharge, and pain is present in males and females. If the infected fluid comes in contact with the eyes, it may cause chlamydial conjunctivitis (pink eye), showing signs such as redness, pain, and discharge.

Diagnosis Of Chlamydia

The most widely used test for the diagnosis of chlamydia infection is the nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT). In this test, a sample of the vaginal fluid or semen is collected from the patient and examined. In females, the sample is collected using a cotton swab from the cervix. In males, the sample is collected from the urethra. Alternatively, a urine sample may also be collected. Sample collection can be done at home by the patient, or at the doctor’s office.
This sample is then tested in a laboratory for the presence of infection-causing bacteria.

There are some other tests used to diagnose chlamydia, such as Ligase chain reaction (LCR), direct fluorescent antibody test, enzyme immunoassay, and cell culture. However, NAAT is the most preferred test owing to better sensitivity and efficacy, and ease of sample collection and management.

Treatment Of Chlamydia

Chlamydia is a curable infection. A person diagnosed with the infection will be prescribed antibiotics by the doctor. The most common antibiotics for the treatment of chlamydia are azithromycin, doxycycline ofloxacin, levofloxacin, erythromycin, and amoxicillin. Erythromycin and amoxicillin are recommended for pregnant women.

Once treatment of chlamydia is started, the symptoms usually alleviate in a week. However, it is advisable to complete the prescribed dose even if there are no symptoms. In severe cases of infection, intravenous (IV) antibiotics and painkillers may be given.

Things to keep in mind during the treatment of chlamydia –

Complications Due To Chlamydia

Chlamydia is mostly asymptomatic. Therefore, there is a risk of the infection being left untreated for a long time. Even though there are no symptoms, it can cause long-term complications in males and females.

Complications in females include –

Complications in males include –

Complications in males and females –

Prevention Of Chlamydia

The only way to completely avoid getting infected by the infection is to abstain from any form of sexual activity with someone infected. This includes vaginal, oral, and anal sex. However, this can be difficult in practice. If a person wishes to be sexually active, certain safety measures can be put in place to prevent infection. These include –

An important method to reduce the spread of infection is screening for chlamydia. As the condition is mostly asymptomatic, the risk of unknowingly spreading infection is higher. Thus screening is important to limit this spread. Ideally, all sexually active individuals must undergo screening regularly. However, screening is highly recommended in certain high-risk groups such as –

Frequently Asked Questions
No, the condition will not get better on its own. It is always advisable to get treatment for chlamydia to avoid further complications.
Yes, it is prone to recurrence if proper precautions are not taken.
No, simply touching an infected person does not transmit the infection.