Chlamydia symptoms

Updated on:
August 7, 2021

Although many people may be asymptomatic and not experience any signs of infection, those that do have chlamydia symptoms typically experience vaginal pain and bleeding, pain or burning when urinating, and/or chlamydia discharge from the vagina, penis, or rectum.

Only about 10% of  penis infections will show symptoms, while about 5-30% of vaginal infections will show signs. Less than 50% of rectal and throat infections will show symptoms, though this is not as well studied. 

Symptoms of chlamydia infections can be numerous.

Chlamydia penile infection

In persons with a penis, chlamydia symptoms include:

  • Burning or painful sensation when urinating
  • Yellow or white discharge from that penis that is watery or milky
  • Itching of the urethra
  • Pain or swelling in the testicles or scrotum
  • Pain in the lower abdomen
  • Burning/pain when urinating and discharge are usually the first symptoms to present after infection.

Penile infection complications

If left untreated, people with a penis may experience a painful condition known as epididymitis, wherein the tube that transports sperm to the testicles becomes inflamed.

Though this complication is rare, it can be painful and cause reduced fertility and even sterility. 

Another rare, but important complication of untreated chlamydia is scarring of the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder. This scarring can cause a stricture which can block the flow of urine and requires surgical correction once it occurs.

Chlamydia vaginal infection

In persons with a vagina, symptoms can sometimes be mistaken for common vaginal yeast infections, bladder infections, or urinary tract infections (UTIs), making it essential to get testing done to determine the exact cause of symptoms. Chlamydia symptoms can include:

  • Discharge from the vagina
  • Discharge may be watery, creamy, or greenish
  • Pain or burning sensation when urinating
  • Pain in the lower abdomen
  • Heavier period or spotting
  • Pain during vaginal intercourse

Vaginal infection complications

If chlamydia is left untreated, people with a vagina have a higher risk for developing long-term complications known as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This occurs when the infectious bacteria spreads up the reproductive tract to the uterus and/or fallopian tubes. Chronic abdominal pain and even infertility can occur, the risk of ectopic pregnancy also increases. Other symptoms of PID include fever, severe pelvic pain, nausea, and abnormal bleeding between periods.

Pregnant parents with chlamydia may also pass the bacteria on to their newborn in the birth canal during delivery. This can lead to eye infections, and in sporadic cases, pneumonia infections in the newborn.

Chlamydia rectal infection

Individuals of any gender may experience rectal chlamydia infections. Symptoms typically include:

  • Pain in or around the anus
  • Anal discharge
  • Bleeding
  • Loss of control of bowel movements (incontinence)
  • Inflammation of the rectal tissue lining (proctitis)

Rectal chlamydia infections are more common in men who have sex with men and individuals who have receptive anal sex. However, some people with vaginas may experience rectal infection in the absence of anal sex due to the proximity of the anus to the vagina.

Chlamydia oral infection

Oral/throat infections are less common than genital and anal infections. Though most oral infections have no symptoms, those that do may experience:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Cough

Performing oral sex on someone with a chlamydia infection can transmit the condition to your mouth and/or throat.

Chlamydia eye infection

Chlamydia can cause infection of the eye when infected fluid comes into contact with the eye. This infection is known as chlamydial conjunctivitis. Symptoms include:

  • Itchy eyes
  • Red eyes
  • Green, white, or yellow discharge that crusts over the eye

Other complications of chlamydia infection

A chlamydia infection anywhere in the body can cause arthritis (swollen, painful joints) and uveitis (swollen, painful eyes) several weeks after the infection. This is why prevention of this infection is so important.  

What to do if you think you're infected with chlamydia

Chlamydia is easily diagnosable and treatable.

Only a lab test will be able to tell you if you currently have chlamydia. If you believe you're infected with chlamydia, the best thing to do is to seek out a local health care provider and get tested.

Read the next article for more information regarding chlamydia treatments.

Sources:

  • https://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stdfact-chlamydia-detailed.htm
Reviewed by:
Dr. Caley Shukalek

Caley is passionate about evidence-based, patient-centred care, including telemedicine that can provide high quality care from wherever a patient may choose.

He helped create Alberta's PrEP guidelines and works as a specialist in General Internal Medicine with additional training in sexual health, including HIV and sexually transmitted infections.

He holds an Masters of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University, an MD from the University of Calgary and an MSc from the University of Alberta.