Chlamydia is the UK’s most prevalent sexually transmitted infection (STI), yet thousands of people are unaware that they have it. The disease can be particularly concerning for women, as it can cause infertility and other serious complications if left untreated.
This guide explains how to spot symptoms of Chlamydia in women, how tests can confirm the diagnosis, what treatment is available, and how to prevent the spread of the STI.
Chlamydia goes unnoticed in most people (70% of women have no tell-tale signs), so a woman with the infection may experience some, all or none of the following symptoms:
Some of these symptoms of Chlamydia in women will be caused by the Chlamydia infection itself, and some are linked to secondary complications, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, cervicitis and bartholinitis.
When symptoms are present, they can be delayed by several weeks after the infection initially occurred. This is a risk factor in the transmission of the disease, as people may be more careless about using protection if they haven’t noticed any symptoms. This makes prevention an important aspect of managing the spread of Chlamydia.
It is a good idea for all sexually active women to have an annual Chlamydia test, even if in a long-term relationship. If a woman is not in a settled or monogamous relationship, it would be advisable to be tested whenever changing sexual partners. Because the symptoms can be invisible, regular testing is important to detect infection early, so that you can receive treatment before further complications arise.
You can be diagnosed through your local sexual health clinic, family planning clinic, via your own GP or by using one of our discreet at-home test kits. If you are under 25, you will be in the highest risk group, and can also get tested via many colleges and pharmacies.
There is no need to be nervous about the test, as it is a simple, painless swab sample. We have found that swab tests are more accurate in women when testing for chlamydia as opposed to a urine sample. It is less invasive than a cervical smear test, and more like inserting a tampon. Many clinics even offer a self-testing kit that you can take into a private room and carry out alone. Results will always be confidential, and you should receive them within two weeks of taking the test. Some clinics operate on a “no news is good news” policy, so phone to be certain of your results if you haven’t heard from them.
As long as it’s caught early, chlamydia is straightforward to treat with a course of antibiotics such as Azithromycin or Doxycycline. Azithromycin tablets are taken as a single dose and Doxycycline capsules are taken daily for a full week. If the infection has been present for a long time, possible complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility can be more difficult to treat, which is why it is essential that you have regular tests if you are sexually active.
If you have tested positive and have a regular partner, ensure that they have also been tested and treated, as it is highly likely that you will both have the infection.
Make sure to carefully follow the directions that come with the antibiotics: you will need to abstain from sex until the course is complete, and in some cases, for a week beyond that. Ignoring this instruction could result in you and your partner passing the infection back and forth again.
As with all STIs, the only 100% method of prevention is sexual abstinence. However, sexually active people will be at extremely low risk if they use condoms or other barrier methods correctly (unexpired latex condoms combined with a water-based lubricant are safest).
Other forms of contraception, e.g. the pill, may prevent pregnancy but will not prevent the transmission of STIs. Remember that any sexual contact, not just penetration, can transmit an STI. In a long term relationship with a monogamous partner, you are at a much lower risk of contracting the Chlamydia, but it is still a good idea to have regular tests to be on the safe side. Dr Felix recommends a chlamydia test at least once a year.
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