Originally Published: September 20, 1996 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: May 31, 2012
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Dear Alice,

Could you tell me about the symptoms of chlamydia and if one test is enough to detect that disease? Thank you.

— Curious

Dear Curious,

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by Chlamydia trachomatis. As with some other STIs, the most common symptom of chlamydia is no symptom at all. Comparatively, more women than men are asymptomatic — up to 75 percent of women and 50 percent of men diagnosed with chlamydia may not experience symptoms.

Semen, vaginal fluids, and cervical secretions can transmit chlamydia. It usually takes one to three weeks for symptoms to show up, if at all. If you've given unprotected oral sex to someone with chlamydia, it's possible, but unlikely, to get a sore throat. This is even less likely if you've gone down on a woman — the penis is much more effective in transmitting chlamydia to a partner's throat.

In men, the chlamydiae make their way into the urethra, where they can cause discharge and burning when urinating, especially during that first trip to the bathroom in the morning. Some women will experience itching, vaginal discharge, and burning during urination. More often than not, the infection will manifest as a discharge around the cervix (mucopurulent cervicitis). This symptom often goes unnoticed because it's difficult to detect without examination by a health care provider.

Unchecked and untreated chlamydia can lead to a number of problems, including sterility for men and women alike. If given free reign to divide and multiply, chlamydiae can infect the epididymis (where sperm mature) in men who do not experience any symptoms at first. These men may eventually experience sensations of heaviness and discomfort in their testicles, and inflammation of their scrotal skin. In women, chlamydiae can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and scarred fallopian tubes. Women who develop PID are also at higher risk for chronic pelvic pain and ectopic pregnancy (when a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus). PID and ectopic pregnancies can be life-threatening. (For more information on PID, see the postscript below.)

If you're sexually active, it's extremely important to be tested for chlamydia and other STIs, even if you don't have any symptoms. And yes, one test is enough to determine the presence of Chlamydia trachomatis. Basically, the test involves a urine test or collecting material from your urethral or cervical area with a swab, and sending the sample to a lab for analysis. The results of this test will determine how you and your health care provider will proceed with education and treatment for you and your partner.

For more information on STIs, including chlamydia, read the Related Q&As listed below.

Symptoms of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

  • Sudden low-grade or high fever; chills
  • Frequent urination, burning when urinating, or inability to empty bladder
  • Abnormal or foul discharge from vagina or urethra
  • Irregular bleeding or spotting
  • Bleeding or pain during or after intercourse
  • Swollen abdomen and/or lymph nodes
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Increased menstrual pain and cramps

Women with PID may experience some or none of these symptoms; symptoms range from very mild to painful enough to warrant a visit to the emergency room.