Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Symptoms may not always appear, or they might be so subtle that they are not noticeable. If symptoms do appear, it can take weeks to months for people to notice them.
The time between a person coming into contact with the infection and symptoms first appearing is called the incubation period.
In this article, we look at the usual time frame for symptoms and test results. We also discuss treatment options for chlamydia and explain when to see a doctor.
Symptoms of chlamydia may appear in the vulva 1–3 weeks after a person comes into contact with the infection. However, in some cases, it can be months afterward.
Some people may only notice symptoms if the infection spreads to other areas of the body.
If people do notice symptoms, these 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 that they may have chlamydia, they should get a test as soon as possible, even if they have no symptoms. People can get a test for chlamydia any time after potentially having come into contact with the infection.
For people with a vulva, a chlamydia test may involve an examination of the vagina and cervix. A healthcare professional will take a swab of the inside of the vagina.
People may also be able to take a swab themselves from the inside of the vagina, which technicians in a laboratory will check for chlamydia.
It is important that people get a test for chlamydia if they suspect that they have come into contact with the infection.
Neither regular cervical screening tests nor routine blood tests identify chlamydia.
Symptoms of chlamydia may affect the penis within 1–3 weeks of the person coming into contact with the infection. In some cases, though, these symptoms can take months to appear.
Symptoms of chlamydia in the penis 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
For people with a penis, a chlamydia test may involve providing a urine sample. A healthcare professional will give the person instructions. It may be necessary to avoid urinating in the 1–2 hours before the urine test.
A healthcare professional may also take a swab from around the urethra, which is the opening through which urine leaves the body.
Chlamydia symptoms can sometimes appear in the throat, although this is uncommon. When it does occur, the time frame is likely to be similar to that of chlamydia infections of the genitals.
In people who experience symptoms, the main one is a persistent sore throat. A doctor may refer to a chlamydia infection in the throat as pharyngeal chlamydia.
Testing for chlamydia in the throat is not a common practice in STI testing, as it does not have approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, if a person suspects that they have pharyngeal chlamydia, a doctor may take a swab from the throat.
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
Doctors can treat chlamydia with antibiotics. A doctor may prescribe treatment as a single dose or a course of treatment lasting up to 7 days.
People should avoid having sex until their treatment is complete. If a person is experiencing symptoms even after the treatment, they should see a doctor.
People who menstruate should notice that their periods return to normal or that bleeding between periods stops by their next period.
It is important that people get treatment for chlamydia, as, without treatment, it can cause complications.
Chlamydia can cause serious reproductive issues and infertility in females. It can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women, as it can cause preterm delivery, as well as pneumonia and conjunctivitis in the newborn.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is another complication, which occurs when chlamydia spreads to the uterus or fallopian tubes. PID can cause damage that leads to tubal factor infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and chronic pelvic pain.
If a person has symptoms of chlamydia after testing and treatment or thinks that they have come into contact with chlamydia again, they should see their doctor.
Females are less likely than males to have symptoms of chlamydia, so testing is especially important for them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend chlamydia testing every year 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 serious complications if it goes untreated, particularly for females. However, people can easily treat chlamydia with antibiotics.
People may not notice any symptoms of chlamydia. In those who do, symptoms can appear in the genitals or throat within 1–3 weeks of the person coming into contact with chlamydia.
Anyone who notices any symptoms of chlamydia or suspects that they have come into contact with it can see a doctor for testing.