So, what can you do to outsmart chlamydia? Get tested regularly for STIs—chlamydia testing can easily be done with a urine sample now. What that looks like in practice depends on your specific circumstances. For people with vaginas, the CDC recommends yearly testing if you are under 25 and are sexually active, 25 and older and having sex with multiple partners or a new partner, and if you are pregnant.2
What are the signs of chlamydia?
According to Hilary Reno, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, chlamydia symptoms usually start a week after you contract the infection, but really there is no set timeline. Adding to the confusion, when you do get chlamydia symptoms, they can often be mild or reminiscent of other common ailments like a urinary tract infection or a yeast infection, or even another sneaky STI, gonorrhea.
You know your body best, so if you feel like something isn’t quite right, it’s best to see a doctor. “If something has changed, and you know what your sexual activity has been, and you are having symptoms, that is an alert that you better get checked,” James Grifo, M.D, Ph.D., program director at NYU Langone Fertility Center and chief executive physician at Inception Fertility, tells SELF. In the meantime, here are some prominent chlamydia symptoms to be on the lookout for:
1. Abnormal vaginal discharge
If you are experiencing vaginal discharge, that isn’t an immediate cause for concern. Some vaginal discharge is normal as it’s the body’s way of cleansing the vagina and keeping it healthy. Changes in your discharge can also be normal, says Dr. Grifo, like during certain times of the menstrual cycle. For example, typically vaginal discharge is clear or milky but “mid-cycle you often have a runny more mucusy kind of discharge.” That’s why he says it is important to really know your body.
Now, changes outside of what is normal for your body—vaginal discharge color, smell, and feel—could signal a larger issue. And there are a lot of things that can account for this outside of chlamydia, according to the Cleveland Clinic, including a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. If your discharge is smelly or white, yellow, or gray in color, though, that may be chlamydia.
2. A burning sensation when you pee—and an urgency to go
Nobody likes to feel burning when they pee, but if a chlamydia infection is in the urethra—the tube that moves urine out of your body—it can cause just that or actual pain when you pee, as well as cloudy urine. You may also feel like you need to go to the bathroom often and urgently. Unfortunately, these are also classic UTI symptoms and can easily be confused for one.
3. Rectal pain, discharge, or bleeding
Chlamydia can infect the rectum—the last portion of your large intestine before the anus— either directly through anal sex, or possibly via spread from the cervix and vagina, Dr. Soper says. Chlamydia in the rectum can cause pain, discharge, and bleeding. These are also common symptoms of proctitis, which is seen in folks who have an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Regardless, these uncomfortable symptoms are not normal, and you should get checked out ASAP to figure out what’s going on.
4. Lower abdominal pain
Obviously, abdominal pain can be caused by a number of things, not just STIs. But when chlamydia is involved, it typically only occurs if the infection has been left untreated for a while, leading to PID, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Other symptoms you might experience at this stage are nausea, fever, and pain during sex, but we’ll get to that next.
5. Painful sex and bleeding afterward
If having sex has gone from pleasurable to downright agonizing, it’s not something you should ignore. Chlamydia can cause cervicitis, or inflammation of the cervix, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, making it extra sensitive during penetrative sex. Bleeding after sex is also a possibility. If the infection spreads and causes PID, that can also make sex feel painful.
6. Pain in the testicles
For people with penises, the majority of whom are asymptomatic with chlamydia, testicular pain can be an indication of a severe case of the STI, Dr. Grifo says. Swelling and tenderness may crop up, too. Another thing to watch out for is epididymitis, which happens when the epididymis, the coiled tube that brings sperm to the outside world, becomes inflamed—in this case due to a chlamydia infection, according to the Mayo Clinic.
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