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Chlamydia is curable — but it can cause additional health problems that are more difficult to treat.
Often chlamydia is symptomless, however, that doesn’t mean it isn’t causing any damage. Regular STI check-ups are recommended, but if you have any reason to suspect you’ve contracted chlamydia, make an appointment straight away.
If you’re diagnosed with chlamydia, you should finish your course of antibiotics and go to your three-month checkup to ensure the infection is completely gone.
Chlamydia is one of the best-known and most widely reported sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) around. And if left untreated, it can sometimes spread, causing potentially serious health problems.
But the good news is, chlamydia is curable.
In this article, we map out the steps involved in treating this particular STD, and offer some advice for staying safe and chlamydia-free.
What Should I Do If I Think I Have Chlamydia?
If you have any reason to believe that you may have chlamydia, you should see your doctor immediately for a chlamydia test. This is important because you could have an STD with similar symptoms (such as gonorrhoea). A test will determine the exact STD you have, meaning you’ll get the right treatment.
It’s worth noting here that chlamydia is often symptomless. In fact, 50% of infected men don’t show symptoms at all. If you believe you may have caught it from someone, don’t wait for symptoms before you seek help.
Initial symptoms of chlamydia in men can include:
- Painful or swollen testicles;
- Unusual discharge from the penis;
- Pain during urination;
- Discomfort and discharge from your rectum (if you’ve engaged in anal sex);
- Redness, pain, or discharge from your eyes, known as conjunctivitis (chlamydia can spread there, too);
- No symptoms at all.
Your first step should be to book an appointment. You can go to your GP or to a sexual health clinic. If you’re in the UK, you can find your local one on the NHS website.
While we’re in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s best to call ahead to book an appointment to avoid sitting in a busy waiting room.
What Does the Chlamydia Test Involve?
When you go for your chlamydia test, your doctor will ask you to provide a urine sample (they’ll give you a pot on the day; no need to bring your own) and may swab the infected area. For men, this means your doctor will insert a slim swab into the end of your penis to get a sample from your urethra. If you’ve engaged in anal sex, they may swab your anus.
This sample then gets sent to a laboratory to be analysed. The results normally take 7 to 10 days to come back, but if there’s a high chance you have chlamydia (for instance, if you are experiencing symptoms or have had unprotected sex with an infected person), your doctor may start you on treatment before you get your results.
What Treatment Cures Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection (caused by a bacteria called chlamydia trachomatis), so if you test positive for it, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics. There are several antibiotic treatments for chlamydia, but the most commonly recommended ones are azithromycin and doxycycline. Other frequently prescribed antibiotics include erythromycin, levofloxacin, and ofloxacin.
Whenever you’ve been prescribed a course of antibiotics, it’s vital that you take the full course, even if you start to feel better or notice symptoms disappearing. This is because an incomplete course of antibiotics exposes the chlamydia bacteria to a non-lethal dose, meaning the small remainder can adapt to become antibiotic-resistant and spread again — and the previous medicine will no longer work.
While antibiotics will clear up a chlamydia infection, complications caused by extended exposure to chlamydia are harder to treat. One example is epididymitis. This is a painful inflammation of the testicles that does go away with antibiotics, but if you leave it untreated for too long, it can affect your fertility.
Equally, while Manual caters to men’s health, it’s also important to be aware of the effects of chlamydia on women, especially if your sexual partner is female. Extended exposure to untreated chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women, which leads to permanent scarring on the fallopian tubes (the tubes connecting the ovary to the womb), which can render women infertile.
It’s very important that you’re honest with your sexual partner about your sexual health, so they can receive treatment before chlamydia causes lasting damage.
What Are My Next Steps?
Once you’ve completed your course of treatment for chlamydia infection, you should come back to your GP or sexual health clinic for a three-month checkup. This is to make sure you’re completely chlamydia free. After all, it’s common for men to experience no symptoms of chlamydia, so this is the best way to make absolutely certain that you’re not putting your — or anyone else’s — health at risk.
If you’ve had unprotected sex, you should contact the sexual partner(s) concerned as soon as you receive the test results, so that they and their possible sexual partner(s) can also take steps to be safe.
What Happens if You Leave Chlamydia Untreated?
You may or may not experience the initial symptoms of chlamydia, but the longer you leave any STD without treatment, the more damage it can cause.
Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria are efficient at spreading, meaning untreated chlamydia infections can see those initial symptoms worsen and the infection move to other parts of the body. You may notice increased discomfort and swelling in your genitals or rectum, unusual discharge, and eye infections.
Increased exposure to a chlamydia infection may also lead you to experience a condition known as sexually acquired reactive arthritis (SARA), which is redness, pain and swelling in your joints caused by your body’s immune reaction to the infection. This is uncomfortable but does go away on its own after a few months.
What doesn’t go away on its own is chlamydia trachomatis itself. It’s very important that you get treatment for it, or the STI will stay in your body and do more damage.
And, as mentioned above, one of the worst consequences of leaving chlamydia untreated is infertility. Men can develop epididymitis, which is when your testicles become painful and inflamed and can affect your fertility, while women with untreated chlamydia can develop PID, which can result in infertility or an ectopic pregnancy.
You may not know you have chlamydia — it’s often symptomless — but that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Leaving it untreated can lead to more health problems.
Chlamydia itself is treatable, but not all of the complications associated with long-term exposure are. It’s important to make an appointment with a healthcare provider as soon as possible in order to minimise the damage caused by infection. And make sure you’re honest with your sexual partner(s) so that they too can get help before they spread chlamydia to other people or develop health complications.
Finally, you must follow the instructions given to you by your doctor and finish your course of antibiotics, otherwise, you may start to grow antibiotic-resistant chlamydia trachomatis bacteria — which is not a good thing! Equally, you should go for a three-month checkup after your treatment ends to make sure that you’ve completely removed the bacteria from your body.
If you have any other questions about chlamydia, you can read our full overview here or speak to one of the medical advisors at Manual.