Untreated chlamydia can lead to a range of severe complications, including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can lead to infertility. Chlamydia often has no symptoms, but regular testing can detect it.
According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States.
A chlamydia infection may cause no symptoms. However, left untreated, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in females. In males and females, it can cause inflammation of the liver capsule and reactive arthritis.
Damage to the reproductive system can also lead to infertility or issues with getting pregnant. Chlamydia is treatable with antibiotics.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
Most people with chlamydia have no symptoms. For this reason, it often goes undiagnosed and untreated.
Infection with the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis
Chlamydia can also pass to an infant during childbirth.
According to the
Symptoms can be different in males and females. General symptoms include:
- dysuria, or painful urination
- frequent urination
- urgent urination
- pain during intercourse
In males, symptoms also include:
- blood in urine or semen
- discharge from the penis
- itching, tenderness, or swelling of the penis
- enlarged groin lymph nodes
In females, the bacteria can also cause cervicitis, an infection of the cervix. Symptoms of cervicitis may include discharge and bleeding, usually after sexual intercourse or any irritation of the cervix.
Further infection can spread into the reproductive system and cause PID.
Symptoms of PID include abdominal and pelvic pain. PID can lead to tubo-ovarian abscess and infertility through scarring of the fallopian tubes.
Complications may be different for males and females, but both can develop reactive arthritis, which affects the joints, urinary tract, and eyes. The infection can also spread to the rectum, eyes, throat, or other organs.
Further, chlamydia can cause inflammation of the urethra, known as urethritis. This condition produces symptoms that resemble those of a urinary tract infection.
Having a chlamydia infection can also increase a person’s chances of contracting HIV.
Some of the complications of chlamydia in females include:
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
PID involves chronic inflammation of the reproductive organs. It
PID can cause scar tissue to form in and around the fallopian tubes and lead to tubal blockages. It can also cause ectopic pregnancy, infertility, and long-term pelvic pain.
Symptoms of PID include:
- pain in the lower abdomen
- unusual vaginal discharge with a bad odor
- pain or bleeding with intercourse
- burning with urination
- bleeding between periods
As chlamydia rarely causes symptoms on its own, a doctor should evaluate any of these symptoms.
Untreated chlamydia can pass from a parent to an infant during childbirth.
If chlamydia does pass on to the baby, they could also develop conjunctivitis or pneumonia. Additionally, the baby may deliver early (pre-term delivery).
According to the
Additionally, untreated chlamydia could develop into PID during pregnancy, causing symptoms and pain.
According to the
Untreated chlamydia can
Epididymitis is an infection of the epididymis, a tubular structure on the back of the testicles where sperm cells mature. Symptoms include testicular pain, painful urination, and painful ejaculation.
If not treated promptly, epididymitis can lead to an abscess and sepsis.
Untreated chlamydia carries further risks. A person can spread the infection to others and also develop more serious infections, such as HIV.
Untreated STIs such as chlamydia may put an individual at
One reason is that the behaviors that carry a risk of chlamydia transmission — such as not using condoms, having multiple partners, and having anonymous partners — may also increase the risk of HIV transmission.
Also, a sore or inflammation from an STI, such as chlamydia, may make the body more vulnerable to an HIV infection. Sores and broken skin may allow infection with HIV that intact skin may have stopped.
Chlamydia is a contagious disease that
Transmission can occur through oral, vaginal, or anal sex or childbirth. Semen does not need to be present, and ejaculation does not need to happen for infection to occur.
A person can avoid this by taking any treatments for chlamydia recommended by a doctor as soon as possible. A person should also avoid having sex while undergoing treatment and wear condoms every time they have sex after treatment.
Chlamydia spreads through vaginal, anal, or oral sex without a condom and with a partner who has chlamydia.
To limit the risk of chlamydia infection, a person should consider talking with sexual partners openly and asking for proof of negative testing.
According to the
- people under the age of 25 years
- people 25 years and older with risk factors including multiple sexual partners or a sexual partner with an STI
Additionally, the following behaviors increase the risk of contracting chlamydia:
- having more than one sexual partner
- having a sexual partner who has more than one sexual partner
- having an STI now or in the past
- not using condoms consistently when not in a mutually monogamous relationship
- exchanging sex for money or drugs
Testing for chlamydia can be done with a urine sample or swabs taken from the genitals, mouth, throat, rectum, or cervix.
A person can order an STI testing kit online or from a sexual health clinic. They can perform the test themselves at home and send it to the clinic through the mail.
Alternatively, they can visit a doctor’s office or sexual health clinic in person. A medical professional may take the samples, or the person may do it themselves.
Learn more about chlamydia and STI testing.
A doctor will diagnose chlamydia
Based on this, they may order laboratory tests, including a urine sample or swab, to test for the presence of Chlamydia trachomatis.
A doctor will diagnose chlamydia based on a positive chlamydia test.
The doctor will also rule out other STIs and, in females, may look for signs of PID.
A person undergoing treatment should avoid sexual activity for at least 7 days or until their symptoms are gone.
A person should take all antibiotics as prescribed, even if they start to feel better. If symptoms persist beyond the recommended treatment, they should contact a doctor.
Infants with chlamydia usually develop conjunctivitis or pneumonia. These infections are treatable with antibiotics.
Chlamydia reinfections are common. Having more than one chlamydia infection increases a person’s risk of reproductive health issues.
To avoid reinfection, an individual should avoid all sexual activity until they finish treatment. After treatment has ended, they should make sure to wear condoms correctly every time they have sex. This can help
To reduce the chance of reinfection, a person should ask all sexual partners to get tested for chlamydia before they resume any sexual activity.
The only way to completely avoid chlamydia is not to have oral, vaginal, or anal sex.
People at the lowest risk of chlamydia are those in monogamous relationships with a partner who tested negative for chlamydia.
This section answers some frequently asked questions about untreated chlamydia.
What happens if you leave chlamydia untreated for 3 years?
Chlamydia is an infection and, in many people, may continue to spread throughout the body.
Leaving a chlamydia infection untreated for years increases the risk of developing serious complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and further infections.
For women, PID can cause:
- scar tissue that blocks fallopian tubes
- ectopic pregnancy
- long-term pelvic pain
What is late-stage chlamydia?
Late-stage chlamydia refers to an infection that has spread to other parts of the body.
For example, it may have spread to the cervix (cervicitis), testicular tubes (epididymitis), eyes (conjunctivitis), or throat (pharyngitis), causing inflammation and pain.
Chlamydia is an STI that can easily spread because it is mostly asymptomatic.
A person can contract it through sexual activity. In pregnancy, it can also spread to an infant through childbirth.
Untreated chlamydia leads to health problems, including PID for women and perihepatitis, or swelling of the lining of the liver. In men, it can cause an infection of the testicular tubes.
Chlamydia can also cause rectal and eye infections, reactive arthritis, and infertility.
Chlamydia is treatable with antibiotics. The individual should abstain from intercourse during treatment, and partners should receive chlamydia tests and treatment if necessary.