By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection that presents with few or no symptoms in the majority of patients. If symptoms do appear, they usually present around one to three weeks after having unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex with an infected person. However, symptoms may also appear months after exposure.
The Chlamydia bacteria is present in the vaginal fluid and semen of infected individuals. Sharing nonsterile sex toys or ones that are not covered with a new condom can also lead to Chlamydia infection.
Examples of the Chlamydia symptoms that may appear in women and men are given below.
In around 70 to 80% of women infected with Chlamydia there are no symptoms, but those that may appear include:
Whitish or pus-like vaginal discharge
Pain on urination
Pain in the lower abdomen
Bleeding during or after sexual intercourse
Pain during sexual intercourse
Bleeding between two menstrual periods
Heavy bleeding during periods
If left untreated, the infection may spread to structures in the pelvic region such as the womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries. This is called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and is one of the leading causes of infertility and complications of pregnancy such as miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy.
In around 50% of men infected with Chlamydia there are no symptoms but those that may appear include:
Pain in the lower abdomen
Pain during urination
Pain in the testicles or in the scrotum
Whitish, cloudy or watery discharge from the tip of the penis
The infection may pass up the male reproductive tract and cause infection of the testes (orchitis) or of the epididymis (epididymitis). Some patients may develop reactive arthritis and infertility in the long term.
Symptoms seen in both men and women
Infection of the eyes
Chlamydia infection can also affect the eyes if they are exposed to infected semen or vaginal fluid. This condition is called trachoma and causes conjunctivitis that leads to pain, sensitivity to light, redness, discharge and irritation of the eyes. Trachoma was once a common cause of blindness worldwide.
Infection of the rectum
Although rare, anal and rectal infection with Chlamydia does occur. This leads to severe pain, bleeding and discomfort.
Infection of the throat is very rare and usually without symptoms.
Infection of the lymph nodes
This is called lymphogranuloma venereum and leads to swollen and painful lymph nodes near the genital region as well as in other parts of the body.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Jan 14, 2014