How to Get Rid of Chlamydia
Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that affects both women and men. It is caused by a bacterial infection that is transmitted by having oral, anal, or vaginal sex with a person who already has chlamydia. The infection is spread through semen and vaginal fluids, but it can infect the eyes and throat in addition to the vagina, cervix, penis, urethra, and anus. Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted bacterial infection in the US, and yet more than half of infected individuals exhibit no symptoms. Read more below to learn what to do if you have chlamydia.
How Do You Know if You Have Chlamydia?
It is common for someone with chlamydia to have no symptoms. In fact, 75% of women and 50% of men with chlamydia exhibit no symptoms. The key signs of chlamydia can appear within one week or up to three weeks after having sex with an infected person. Even with no symptoms, it is still possible to transmit the disease and damage the reproductive system.
There are some differences in how chlamydia presents in men vs women, but in general the most common reported symptoms in both men and women are:
- Chlamydia discharge – For women, this includes abnormal discharge from the vagina that may have a strong odor and be yellowish. For men, this can vary greatly, but may be cloudy or clear discharge around the tip of the penis.
- Burning sensation while urinating – Also called dysuria, this symptom is common with other STDs and is an important sign to get tested.
- Burning or itching around the vagina or penis – For women, this burning or itching may also be inside the vagina, and for men, this is usually around the penial opening.
Women can also have painful periods, bleeding between periods, pain during sex, abdominal pain, or a fever. Men can also have a less common symptom of swelling or pain in either or both testicles. Chlamydia can spread or infect the anus causing:
- Rectal pain
While rare, chlamydia can infect your eyes, causing itching, redness, or discharge, or your throat, causing soreness.
How is Chlamydia Diagnosed?
Chlamydia can be diagnosed by several different laboratory tests. They can either use a urine sample to test for the bacteria or a cotton swab from the infected area. The chlamydia test most often uses a swab from the cervix for women and the urethra for men, but can also include a swab of the anus or other potentially infected areas. This swab is used for a culture or antigen for testing, both of which can identify if chlamydia is present. A doctor may also conduct a physical exam to examine symptoms and check for other STDs. Chlamydia and gonorrhea are very similar, so it is important to test for both to ensure you receive the right treatment. A doctor may ask:
- How often do you have unprotected sex?
- Do you have a new partner or multiple sexual partners?
- Do you exhibit any symptoms like discharge, pelvic pain, or pain when urinating?
These questions can be used to determine if you have a STD, and answering yes increases the likelihood that you may have contracted one. Getting tested for a STD can be scary and intimidating, but remember you are taking charge of your health. Seeking help can provide peace of mind knowing if you do or do not have a STD and what you can do about it.
How to Treat Chlamydia
Many people just want to know how do you get rid of chlamydia. Since chlamydia is caused by a bacterial infection, treatment for chlamydia is a regimen of oral antibiotics. The most common recommended course of treatment is to prescribe doxycycline or azithromycin (the brand name is Zithromax). The infection should clear after one to two weeks. You should never stop taking antibiotics until the recommended course is finished, even if you think the infection cleared or you are feeling better. If you do not finish the antibiotics, the infection can come back and be resistant to the antibiotics you were taking.
Is chlamydia curable? Yes, chlamydia is curable by taking the appropriate medication as directed; however, repeat infections are common. You and your sexual partner(s) should always be tested after three months of completing treatment, especially if you are unsure whether your partner(s) received treatment.
You and your sexual partner(s) should not have sex again until treatment is complete. You should wait at least one week after completing a prescribed single dose medication and finish all doses if you are prescribed a seven-day treatment. In some cases, the infection may still be present so you should wait until you and your partner(s) are sure the disease is no longer present.
What Happens if Chlamydia Goes Untreated?
Chlamydia often has no symptoms; therefore, some people go untreated. Even with those who have symptoms; stigma, access, or other reasons get in the way of getting medical attention. Not receiving prompt and proper treatment can create serious health problems. Chlamydia that goes untreated can increase the likelihood of contracting another STD, like gonorrhea or HIV/AIDS, or increasing the likelihood of transmitting that STD to someone else. It is also possible to develop reactive arthritis, or arthritis caused by the body’s reaction to an infection, because of chlamydia. This can affect the joints, urethra, and eyes.
For women, chlamydia that goes untreated can spread through your uterus to your fallopian tubes. Fallopian tubes connect the ovaries to the uterus and transport fertilized eggs during pregnancy. If untreated chlamydia spreads to this area, the result is pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), affecting around 5% of women in the US.
Pelvic inflammatory disease, similar to chlamydia, can have no symptoms or just some pelvic or abdominal pain initially. Unfortunately, PID can do permanent damage to a women’s reproductive system, including:
- Long-term pelvic pain – PID can damage the fallopian tubes or other areas of the reproductive system inflaming them and causing chronic pelvic pain.
- Infertility – As the infection spreads through the fallopian tubes, the damage can cause scars that prevent any sperm from reaching an egg.
- Ectopic pregnancy – Sometimes, the sperm is able to get through and fertilize an egg but the same damage and scarring can prevent the fertilized egg from reaching the uterus. This fertilized egg can implant in the fallopian tubes or elsewhere. Since these other areas are not designed to expand as the egg goes, they can rupture causing massive internal bleeding and even death. It is extremely important to call a doctor immediately if you experience any symptoms, such as heavy vaginal bleeding, dizziness or shoulder pain.
- Premature birth – Even with the damage caused by the disease, it is still possible to conceive a child. Sometimes, PID can result in the birth occurring before the due date which can risk the health and development of the child.
For men, chlamydia rarely leads to health problems. It is very rare for chlamydia to cause infertility in men, but sometimes the infection can spread past the penis causing fever or pain. In addition, it is possible for chlamydia to cause:
- Nongonococcal urethritis – This is an infection of the urethra, the tube that carries urine, which causes inflammation, pain, and fever.
- Epididymitis – This occurs when the epididymis is infected, the tube beside the testicle that carries sperm, which causes inflammation, scrotal pain, and fever.
- Proctitis – This results in inflammation of the rectum.
- Prostate gland infection – This is an infection of the prostate gland, which can cause fever, pain during sex or while urinating, and pain in the lower back.
How Long Does Chlamydia Last?
Once you are infected with chlamydia, it is unclear how long chlamydia can last in your system until treatment. Some estimate it can last for years. Once you have been infected, you can get tested immediately. In some cases, if you test negative but the suspected sexual encounter was recent, a doctor may advise you to come back after two weeks to be retested to ensure it is a fully correct diagnosis. After completing treatment the infection usually clears in 7 to 10 days.
How to Prevent Chlamydia
Since chlamydia is a STD, the only 100% effective way to not contract the disease is to not have oral, anal, or vaginal sex. If you are sexually active, however, there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk:
- Limit the number of sexual partners - Have yourself and your partner get tested before having oral, vaginal, or anal sex and remain monogamous to better ensure you are not exposed. The more partners you have at any given time, the more likelihood of contracting chlamydia or any other STD.
- Use condoms - Use condoms as directed every time to help reduce the risk, but condoms are not 100% effective in eliminating the risk.
- Get tested regularly – Since having a history of STDs increases your likelihood of contracting another, getting tested regularly helps limit exposure.
- Avoid douching – Douche or douching refers to washing out the vagina either with an at-home mix of water and vinegar or using a purchased product that can include antiseptics and fragrances. Between 20% to 40% of women ages 15 to 44 in the US use a douche and believe it helps clean and freshen their vagina as well as avoid getting a STD or pregnancy. Health experts agree that douching is both not effective and increases your risk of a STD or other health problems.
Should any of these symptoms arise or if you suspect you may have a STD, it is very important to get tested. Even if you have no symptoms as do the vast majority of those with chlamydia, you should be getting tested regularly so you do not unknowingly spread the disease. You can make an appointment with your primary care physician or see an urgent care in order to be tested.