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Chlamydia infections in women

Definition

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). This means chlamydia is passed from one person to another during sexual contact.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Chlamydia is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. Both males and females may have chlamydia without having any symptoms. As a result, you may become infected or pass the infection to your partner without knowing it.

You are more likely to become infected with chlamydia if you:

  • Have sex without wearing a male or female condom
  • Have more than one sexual partner
  • Use drugs or alcohol and then have sex

Symptoms

Only some women with chlamydia have symptoms. Symptoms may include:

  • Burning when you urinate
  • Pain in the lower part of your belly
  • Painful intercourse
  • Vaginal discharge or bleeding after intercourse

Signs and tests

If you have symptoms of a chlamydia infection, your health care provider will collect a culture or perform a test called a PCR:

  • The culture will be collected during a pelvic exam.
  • Results will take 1 - 2 days to come back.
  • Your health care provider may also check you for other types of infections, such as gonorrhea.

Even if you have no symptoms, you may need a chlamydia test if you:

  • Are 25 years old or younger and are sexually active (get tested every year)
  • Have a new sexual partner or more than one partner

Treatment

Chlamydia can be treated with the antibiotics azithromycin, tetracyclines, quinolones, or erythromycin. Erythromycin and azithromycin are safe if you are pregnant. You and your partner should finish all of your antibiotics, even if you feel better. Common side effects of these antibiotics include nausea, upset stomach, and diarrhea.

All of your sexual partners must be treated, even if they do not have symptoms. This will prevent you from passing the infection back and forth.

Because gonorrhea often occurs with chlamydia, treatment for gonorrhea is often given at the same time.

Expectations (prognosis)

Antibiotic treatment almost always works if you and your partner take the medicines as directed.

If chlamydia spreads into your uterus, it can cause scarring and make it harder for you to get pregnant. You can help prevent this by:

  • Finishing your antibiotics when you are treated
  • Talking to your health care provider about being tested for chlamydia
  • Going to see your health care provider whenever you have symptoms
  • Wearing condoms and practicing safe sex

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if symptoms of chlamydia occur.

References

Geisler WM. Diseases caused by chlamydiae. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 326.

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for chlamydial infection: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2007;147:128-134.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines. 2010. MMWR. 2010;59(RR-12):1-110.


Review Date: 5/31/2012
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington; and Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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