Chlamydia is an illness transmitted by penetration (STI). Signs may not always occur, or they may be so slight as not to be obvious. If signs do occur, people may need weeks to months to identify them.
The interval between a first presenting person coming in contact with the infection and symptoms is called the duration of incubation.
In this post, we look at symptoms and test results from the usual time frame. We’ll also explore chlamydia treatment options and explain when to see a doctor.
Symptoms in the vulva
Chlamydia symptoms that show up in the vulva 1–3 weeks after a person comes into contact with the infection. In some cases, though, it can be months later.
Certain people can experience symptoms only when the infection is spreading to other areas of the body.
If symptoms are noticed by people, they may include:
- bleeding between periods
- heavier periods than usual
- pain or bleeding during or after sex
- pain in the lower abdomen or pelvic area
- unusual vaginal discharge, which may be yellow or have a strong odor
- pain or a burning sensation when urinating
- frequent need to urinate
- swelling inside the vagina
If a person thinks they may have chlamydia, they should get a test at the earliest opportunity, even if they have no symptoms. People can get a chlamydia test at any time after touching the infection potentially.
A chlamydia test may require an exam of the vagina and cervix for people with a vulva. A health care provider may take a swab from inside the vagina.
People may also be able to take a swab themselves from inside the vagina which will be tested for chlamydia by technicians in a laboratory.
It is vital that individuals get a chlamydia test if they believe they have come into contact with the infection.
Neither regular cervical screening tests nor routine blood tests identify chlamydia.
Symptoms in the penis
Chlamydia symptoms can affect the penis within 1–3 weeks of the person coming in contact with the infection. However, in some cases these signs can take months to show up.
Symptoms of penile chlamydia may include:
- white, cloudy, or watery discharge from the tip of the penis
- pain or a burning sensation when urinating
- testicle pain
- swelling in one or both of the testicles, although this is a less common symptom
A chlamydia check can require providing a urine sample for persons with a penis. A healthcare professional shall give instructions to the individual. You may need to stop urinating within 1–2 hours before the urine test.
A health care professional may also take a swab from around the urethra, which is the opening that leaves the body through urine.
Symptoms in the throat
Symptoms of chlamydia may sometimes occur in the throat although this is uncommon. The time frame is likely to be similar when it does occur to that of genital chlamydia infections.
The key one in individuals experiencing symptoms is a recurrent sore throat. A doctor may refer as pharyngeal chlamydia to an infection with chlamydia in the throat.
Testing for chlamydia in the throat is not a common practice in STI testing, since it does not have Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. If a person suspects they have pharyngeal chlamydia, though, a doctor may take a swab from the throat.
Where to get tested
A person can undergo testing for chlamydia at their:
- doctor’s office
- community health clinic
- local health department
- local planned parenthood center
A person can also order a chlamydia test online, take it at home, and then send it off for testing.
If people are at high risk of chlamydia, they may need screening for all types of chlamydia every 3–6 months.
At risk groups include people who have:
- multiple or unknown sexual partners
- sex in combination with illegal drug use
- sexual partners who use illegal drugs or have multiple partners
Treatment for chlamydia
Doctors can prescribe antibiotics to treat chlamydia. A doctor can prescribe medication as a single dose or as a care course that lasts for up to 7 days.
People should avoid having sex until they have completed therapy. If a person has symptoms even after the treatment they should see a doctor.
People who are menstruating will note that their cycles return to normal, or that the inter-period bleeding should stop during their next period.
It is important for people to get chlamydia treatment, as it can cause complications without treatment.
Chlamydia can cause serious reproductive problems and female infertility. It can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women as it can cause premature birth, as well as pneumonia and newborn conjunctivitis.
Another complication is pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which occurs when chlamydia spreads to the uterus or Falopian tubes. PID can cause damage that results in infertility to the tubal factor, ectopic pregnancy and chronic pelvic pain.
When to see a doctor
If after testing and treatment a person has chlamydia symptoms, or feels they have come back into contact with chlamydia, they should see their doctor.
Females are less likely to have chlamydia symptoms than males, so monitoring is of particular importance to them.
Chlamydia testing is recommended each year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the following groups of people:
- sexually active females under the age of 25 years
- females over the age of 25 years who have new or multiple sexual partners
- anyone with a sexual partner who has an STI
- sexually active gay and bisexual males
Pregnant women should have a chlamydia test early on in their pregnancy.
Chlamydia is an STI that can cause severe complications if it goes untreated especially for women. People should treat chlamydia easily with antibiotics though.
People may not note any of the chlamydia signs. In those who do, signs can occur within 1–3 weeks of the person coming into contact with chlamydia in the genitals or throat.
Anyone who has any chlamydia signs or believes that they have come into contact with it can see a doctor for the examination.