What Does Chlamydia Do to a Woman?

What is chlamydia?

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that poses risks for both men and women. It is especially serious for women. The bacteria may travel into your reproductive organs and cause permanent damage.

Chlamydia trachomatis is a bacterial STD commonly shortened to just “chlamydia.” It is among the most common STDs in the U.S. for women. Chlamydia mainly affects women between the ages of 15 and 24 years old.

How does chlamydia spread?

Chlamydia spreads through physical contact with an infected person. This may include:

  • Vaginal sex
  • Oral sex
  • Anal sex
  • Genital touching‌
  • Childbirth

An infected person does not have to show symptoms to spread chlamydia to another person. Symptoms may take as long as a few months to appear, making it easy to spread the disease without knowing.

What are chlamydia symptoms in women?

Symptoms of Chlamydia are often similar to those other illnesses. If you suspect you may have chlamydia, talk to your doctor right away. Chlamydia symptoms may include:

What happens if chlamydia goes untreated in women?

Untreated chlamydia in women leads to serious health problems. The bacteria can affect your reproductive organs, mouth, throat, and even your eyes.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)‌

Between 10% and 15% of chlamydia cases in women lead to PID. The chlamydia bacteria can spread to your reproductive organs and scar your fallopian tubes. This condition is called pelvic inflammatory disease. If untreated chlamydia in women leads to PID, you may feel severe pelvic pain.

Chlamydia bacteria in female reproductive organs can make it difficult to get pregnant. Long-term chlamydia infections may cause infertility by scarring your fallopian tubes. PID is a medical emergency. It requires prompt treatment from your doctor.

Rectal infections

Chlamydia may infect your rectum during anal sex. Rectal infections may not cause symptoms. If you do experience symptoms, they may include:

  • Pain around your anus
  • Pain inside your rectum
  • Discharge‌
  • Bleeding

Throat infections

If you perform oral sex on a person with chlamydia, you may get a throat infection. In addition to other chlamydia symptoms, you may also have a cough or sore throat.

HIV

Chlamydia may leave you with open sores. Bacteria enter your bloodstream easier through open sores, increasing your risk for HIV.

Passing chlamydia to your baby‌

You’re more likely to have preterm labor if you have chlamydia during pregnancy. You also risk passing the infection to your baby. chlamydia in infants may result in eye infections like conjunctivitis or pinkeye. Severe chlamydia infections can lead to pneumonia in infants. chlamydia symptoms in newborns usually appear within a few months after birth. 

What puts me at risk for catching chlamydia? 

Young women are more likely to contract chlamydia than older women and men of any age. If you are 24 or younger and sexually active, get tested for chlamydia. Other factors that may increase your risk for chlamydia include:

  • New sex partners
  • Many sex partners
  • A sex partner with an STD
  • Swapping sex for money or drugs
  • Prior history of chlamydia or other STDs
  • Not using condoms during sex with new partners

How does my doctor diagnose chlamydia?

Urine test‌

You can provide a urine sample to your doctor. A chlamydia infection shows up in your urine.‌

Swab test

Your doctor swabs the area of concern. They test the fluid from your vagina, rectum, or throat for chlamydia. Keep in mind that a chlamydia infection does not show up on a pap smear.

Treating chlamydia in women

Doctors use antibiotics to treat bacterial infections like chlamydia. Antibiotics cure chlamydia infections in women but can’t heal existing damage from the bacteria. Damage to your reproductive organs is not reversible.

Early treatment of a  chlamydia infection prevents additional damage to your body. Talk to your doctor if you may be pregnant. You may need a different antibiotic for a safe pregnancy.

Finish your antibiotic prescription. Your doctor prescribes a dosage based on your individual needs. Do not share a prescription antibiotic with your partner if you both have chlamydia. 

How can I prevent chlamydia? 

Abstinence from sexual contact is the only certain way to prevent chlamydia. If you are sexually active, you can take some of the following steps to reduce the chances of contracting chlamydia: 

  • Use condoms
  • Limit your sex partners
  • Don’t use drugs or alcohol
  • Avoid douching 

Get tested at least once per year if you are between 15 and 24 years old and are sexually active. Ask your doctor to test for chlamydia more often if you suspect an infection.


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Medically Reviewed on 9/27/2021

References

SOURCES:

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Chlamydia – CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed).”

Office on Women’s Health: “Chlamydia.”

Stanford Children’s Health: “Chlamydia Can Lead to Infertility.”

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