We’ve all heard the horror stories of this mysterious infection, but what actually is it? What does it look like? Is it as bad as it sounds? And what do you do about it if you catch it? We’re dishing up all the details. Let’s lift the lid on all things chlamydia...
Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that’s usually spread through unprotected sex. It’s caused by certain bacteria, and many people who have it (about 90% of women and 70% of men) don’t experience symptoms in the beginning, though it can cause issues later if left untreated. If you’re not squeamish, you can see a picture of what chlamydia can look like on the Healthline website here.
In 2019, it was the most commonly diagnosed STI in the UK, and made up 49% of all new STI diagnoses. Yikes. It’s similarly prevalent in other countries, and men and women are both susceptible to chlamydia, but it is mostly women between the ages of 15 and 24 who report symptoms.
Chlamydia symptoms vary, but in most cases, any symptoms are likely to show up around 1-3 weeks after having sexual contact with an infected individual. People with periods tend to experience:
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection which tends to spread through sex, or any contact with infected semen or vaginal fluid. In a nutshell, you catch it by having unprotected sex (vaginal, anal or oral), sharing sex toys without washing them or using a condom, getting infected fluids in your eye, or genital-on-genital contact, even without penetration or ejaculation.
You can’t catch chlamydia through kissing, hugging, or sharing things like towels or cutlery. And let’s put the rumour to bed; you can’t catch it from a toilet seat. Any bacterial STIs can’t survive outside the body. Case closed!
If you’re sexually active, you can catch chlamydia, but there are ways to reduce your chances. Condoms are best, so use them when having vaginal, anal or oral sex. If you are having oral sex, a dental dam is a piece of thin, soft plastic/latex that covers the vagina and can protect against various STIs. Also, avoid sharing sex toys, or if you do, wash them between uses or cover with a new condom. The NHS recommends getting tested at least once a year if you’re under 25 and sexually active, or when you have a new sexual partner.
While chlamydia is often easy to treat when caught early, it can - when left untreated - cause some complications. For women, these could include Pelvic Inflammatory Disease which can damage the cervix, uterus and ovaries, affect fertility long-term. It can be painful, and an estimated 10-15% of women with untreated chlamydia develop Pelvic Inflammatory Disease.
If you have chlamydia during pregnancy, the infection can be passed on to newborns during birth and can cause possible eye infections or pneumonia in newborns, so if you suspect you have symptoms of chlamydia, speak to your GP.
Other possible complications include inflammation of the neck of the womb (cervicitis), inflammation of the fallopian tubes (salpingitis), infection of the urethra (urethritis), and conjunctivitis if passed on through the eye. All in all, if you are concerned that you may have chlamydia, better safe than sorry - get checked out.
Whether or not you have symptoms, chlamydia screening will determine whether or not you have the infection. Your doctor will usually ask about symptoms and may do several different tests to diagnose - most involve taking a swab from the cervix, or a urine sample.
You can easily test for chlamydia (free if you’re under 25!) at home with a urine sample or swab test. Order a confidential test kit here, or if you’re over 25, you can get a test at your local GUM clinic, GP’s office, or some pharmacies.
Got a positive test? Don’t panic. Make an appointment with your doctor to chat about treatment options to help get you clear of chlamydia.
Chlamydia is usually easily treated with antibiotics, and sometimes can disappear in just a week. You will be asked to avoid sex until you and your partner are finished treatment, and to contact any other recent sexual partners to give them a heads up - it can be awkward, but it’s the right thing to do to help them treat the condition early. Your local GUM clinic can help you do this anonymously. If you have tested positive and are under 25, you have a higher risk of catching it again in future, so you’ll be offered a follow-up test.
Worried you may have chlamydia? Or have you tested positive? Don’t be afraid to reach out to your GP to get tested or treated. Chlamydia is a very common STI, and luckily it can be easily treated when caught early, so don’t put this off.
If you have questions, we are happy to answer! Glide into our Instagram DMs at @itsyoppie and let’s talk chlamydia, or reach out to our private FB group where no topic is off-limits. Don't forget that our personalised menstrual care subscription can get organic tampons, PMS supplements and much more delivered easily and regularly through your letterbox. That's one less thing to worry about each month.
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