Chlamydia (kluh-MID-e-uh) trachomatis (truh-KOH-muh-tis) is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by bacteria. You may not know you have chlamydia because many people never develop the signs or symptoms, such as genital pain and discharge from the vagina or penis.
Chlamydia trachomatis affects both men and women and occurs in all age groups, though it's most prevalent among young women. Chlamydia isn't difficult to treat once you know you have it. If left untreated, however, it can lead to more-serious health problems.
Early-stage Chlamydia trachomatis infections often cause few or no signs and symptoms. When signs or symptoms occur, they usually start one to two weeks after exposure to chlamydia. Even when signs and symptoms occur, they're often mild and passing, making them easy to overlook.
Signs and symptoms of chlamydia trachomatis infection may include:
- Painful urination
- Lower abdominal pain
- Vaginal discharge in women
- Discharge from the penis in men
- Painful sexual intercourse in women
- Bleeding between periods and after sex in women
- Testicular pain in men
Chlamydia trachomatis can also infect the rectum. While these infections often cause no signs or symptoms, you may experience rectal pain, discharge or bleeding.
It's also possible to acquire chlamydial eye infections (conjunctivitis) through contact with infected secretions.
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you have a discharge from your vagina, penis or rectum, or if you have pain during urination. Also, see your doctor if your sexual partner reveals that he or she has chlamydia. Your doctor will likely prescribe an antibiotic even if you have no symptoms.
Chlamydia trachomatis is caused by Chlamydia trachomatis bacterium and is most commonly spread through vaginal, oral and anal sex. It's also possible for a mother to spread chlamydia to her child during delivery, causing pneumonia or a serious eye infection in her newborn.
Factors that increase your risk of chlamydia trachomatis include:
- Being sexually active before age 25
- Multiple sex partners within the past year
- Not using a condom consistently
- History of prior sexually transmitted infection
Chlamydia trachomatis can be associated with:
- Other sexually transmitted infections. People who have chlamydia trachomatis are at higher risk of also having other STIs — including gonorrhea and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is an infection of the uterus and fallopian tubes that causes pelvic pain and fever. Severe infections may require hospitalization for intravenous antibiotics. PID can damage the fallopian tubes, ovaries and uterus, including the cervix.
- Infection near the testicles (epididymitis). A chlamydia infection can inflame the coiled tube located beside each testicle (epididymis). The infection may result in fever, scrotal pain and swelling.
- Prostate gland infection. The chlamydia organism can spread to a man's prostate gland. Prostatitis may result in pain during or after sex, fever and chills, painful urination, and lower back pain.
- Infections in newborns. The chlamydia infection can pass from the vaginal canal to your child during delivery, causing pneumonia or a serious eye infection.
- Infertility. Chlamydia infections — even those that produce no signs or symptoms — can cause scarring and obstruction in the fallopian tubes, which may make women infertile.
- Reactive arthritis. People who have chlamydia trachomatis are at higher risk of developing reactive arthritis, also known as Reiter's syndrome. This condition typically affects the joints, eyes and urethra — the tube that carries urine from your bladder to outside of your body.
The surest way to prevent a chlamydia trachomatis infection is to abstain from sexual activities. Short of that, you can:
- Use condoms. Use a male latex condom or a female polyurethane condom during each sexual contact. Condoms used properly during every sexual encounter reduce but don't eliminate the risk of infection.
- Limit your number of sex partners. Having multiple sex partners puts you at a high risk of contracting chlamydia and other sexually transmitted infections.
- Get regular screenings. If you're sexually active, particularly if you have multiple partners, talk with your doctor about how often you should be screened for chlamydia and other sexually transmitted infections.
- Avoid douching. Douching isn't recommended because it decreases the number of good bacteria present in the vagina, which may increase the risk of infection.