If you’re sexually active, then you’re at risk of catching chlamydia – it’s one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the UK. Caught early enough, it’s easy to treat, but as most people don’t have any symptoms, it can be hard to detect.  

Left untreated, chlamydia can cause serious long-term conditions. If you’re in a high-risk group, then it’s crucial you get tested regularly. In this blog, we look at what happens if you test positive for chlamydia.  

Treating chlamydia with antibiotics 

If you test positive for chlamydia, you will be treated with antibiotics.

In certain circumstances, your doctor might suggest that you start treatment before you receive your test results. If you’ve had unprotected sex with someone who has chlamydia, for example, then it’s highly likely you have the infection.

According to the NHS, 95% of people who take a complete course of antibiotics make a full recovery. There are two types of antibiotics for chlamydia trachomatis: 

  • azithromycintwo tablets taken as a single dose, followed by one tablet daily for two days
  • doxycycline – given as two capsules a day in a 7-day course 

Pregnant women, new mums who are breastfeeding, and those with specific allergies, may be offered alternative antibiotics, such as amoxicillin or erythromycin.

To stop you passing on the chlamydia infection to other people, you should avoid having sex with anyone until you’ve completed a full course of treatment. If you take the azithromycin course, then you should wait at least a week before you have sex again.  

How to tell your sexual partners

Chlamydia can stay in your system for weeks or even months without presenting any symptoms. During that time you may have unknowingly passed on the infection.

To stop the spread, it’s important you tell your current partner and any recent sexual partners, that you have been diagnosed with chlamydia.

Your local genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic or sexual health centre can help you. Their healthcare professionals can advise you on how to contact your partner (s), or they can do it on your behalf to protect your anonymity. 

Catching the infection early is crucial to making a full recovery, so they will be offered a chlamydia test and then given treatment if required.

If chlamydia is left untreated in women it can lead to serious health problems, such as:

  • pelvic inflammatory disease 
  • damage to the fallopian tubes that can lead to difficulty getting pregnant
  • increased risk of ectopic pregnancy 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in America points out that women whose partners are not tested and treated are at a high risk of re-infection. Multiple infections can cause serious complications in sexually active women

Testing for the chlamydia infection

As chlamydia is largely symptomless, testing is the only way to know for sure if you have the infection. Testing doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be examined by a doctor or nurse; it can be as simple as sending off a sample of cells.

woman checking herself

There are two main ways of collecting a sample for testing: 

  • using a cotton swab to gather cells from the infected area 
  • urinating into a container (main method for men)

You can get a free, confidential test at your GP surgery, local sexual health centre, or GUM clinic. Some people prefer to do the test at home where they feel most comfortable and in control. Female chlamydia test kits are available to buy online. 

Home test kits

Home test kits for women are simple to use with an easy-to-read visual result panel. A swab is taken from inside the vagina and then submerged into a solution. The reading appears within ten minutes, so you don’t have to wait a long time for lab results.

The SELFCheck chlamydia test is only suitable for women, and shouldn’t be used:

  • if you are pregnant 
  • during your period or within three days of it ending 
  • within 14 days of completing a course of antibiotics

When to get tested for chlamydia

Young people under 25 years of age should be tested regularly as they are most at risk of catching chlamydia. The NHS recommends getting tested every year, or when you change sexual partners. If you’ve tested positive for chlamydia, you may be asked to re-test three months after completing your course of antibiotics.

Whatever your age, you should arrange to get tested if:

  • you think you have the symptoms of an STI
  • you’ve had unprotected sex or your contraception failed 
  • your partner has told you they have chlamydia
  • your partner has had unprotected sex with someone else

Catching it early reduces your risk of developing complications later in life.

The key takeaway 

Treating chlamydia is straightforward with a simple course of antibiotics, but the long-term effects of this sexually transmitted infection are harder to manage. 

To reduce your chances of developing complications, it’s crucial that chlamydia is diagnosed early and treated straight away. Chlamydia is largely symptomless and most people don’t know they’ve got it – testing is the only way to know for sure if you have it.  

Regular testing in young people under 25 years old – particularly women – is crucial to stopping the spread of this STI and reducing the chances of re-infection. Most tests are free, but for those who prefer to do it at home, self-testing kits are available to buy.

Although all of our content is written and reviewed by healthcare professionals, it should not be substituted for or used as medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please speak to your doctor.

Authored Sep 10, 2021 by Joseph Issac, MPharm
Reviewed Oct 04, 2021 by Prabjeet Saundh, MPharm