Chlamydia in Women

What are the signs of chlamydia in women?

Last reviewed: 30 Apr 2019

Woman sat at a bus stop is checking on her phone for the symptoms of chlamydia in women

Key takeaways

  • It's difficult for a woman to tell if she has chlamydia – only 30% of women with chlamydia notice any signs of their chlamydia infections

  • The most common symptoms of chlamydia are vaginal discharge and pain when urinating

  • If you think there's a chance you have chlamydia, even if you do not have symptoms, you should get tested

  • If it’s left untreated, chlamydia in women can cause infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, cervicitis (inflammation of the cervix), and bartholinitis (inflammation of Bartholin’s glands behind the labia), and a risk of infecting partners

  • You can get tested for chlamydia using an online testing service like Zava, or you can visit your GP or a GUM clinic

Contents of this article

Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the bacterium, Chlamydia trachomatis. If it's not treated, it can seriously damage a woman’s reproductive organs and can cause infertility.

Around 1 in 20 sexually active women in the UK are infected with chlamydia and it's most prevalent amongst 15 to 25 year-olds. It has been dubbed the 'silent infection', as it's often symptomless.

Chlamydia is spread during oral, anal, and vaginal sex. You can avoid catching chlamydia by using a condom every time you have sex. Before you have sex with a new partner, you and your new partner should get tested.

Common symptoms of chlamydia in women

Chlamydia symptoms in women are often not noticeable. Only around 30% of female chlamydia patients notice any signs of chlamydia. If symptoms occur, they usually begin to show within 3 weeks of infection.

Changes in vaginal discharge

Chlamydia discharge in women is often caused by cervicitis (inflammation of the uterine cervix). It's the most common symptom of chlamydia in women. The discharge may be yellow or milky white.

Burning sensation when urinating

Chlamydia microbes can infect the urethra and cause a urinary tract infection (UTI), which can manifest itself as pain during urination (most commonly a 'burning' sensation), as well as sudden, desperate urges to urinate.

If a chlamydia infection is left untreated, it may spread from the cervix to the fallopian tubes, which can cause a condition called Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. The symptoms of this are: :

  • Pain or bleeding during sex
  • Bleeding (or 'spotting') between periods
  • Nausea or fever
  • Abdominal, lower back pain or a heavy feeling around the hips
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Chlamydia causes infertility in women

Chlamydia in women is a common cause of infertility. When a woman gets infected, the infection affects the cervix first (the cervix is the opening of the uterus). If the condition is not treated, the chlamydia bacteria can spread to the fallopian tubes and ovaries. It's believed, that chlamydia causes damage to the hairs lining the fallopian tubes, which help guide the egg from the ovaries to the womb. This damage leads to scarring, causing the tubes to become blocked. The blockage of the fallopian tubes can result in permanent infertility.

In some cases, women who have suffered scarring due to chlamydia are still able to conceive. However, they may be at risk of an ectopic pregnancy (where the baby develops in the fallopian tubes rather than the womb itself). Ectopic pregnancies can be very dangerous for the mother and need to be diagnosed as quickly as possible to prevent dangerous complications. Regular chlamydia testing and the use of condoms are important steps in preventing chlamydia and all possible complications in women.

Chlamydia and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

Pelvic inflammatory disease, better known as PID, is a bacterial infection of the womb and/or fallopian tubes. It's often caused by chlamydia and it causes chlamydia related infertility in women as described above.

The most common symptoms of PID in women are:

  • abdominal vaginal bleeding (i.e. unusually heavy periods, bleeding between period, bleeding during sexual intercourse).
  • pain during sex
  • abnormal vaginal discharge
  • fever
  • lower back pain

Some women become ill over the course of just a few days, but the infection can also occur slowly, (if the bacteria remain at the neck of the womb it can take some time before any symptoms are felt). PID is very common in the UK, with around 1 in 50 women developing it each year. It's most prevalent among the 15 - 24 age group and a woman's chances of developing PID are much higher if she has contracted an STI such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea.

The treatment for PID is a two week course of antibiotics. In serious cases, a stay in hospital may be needed.

Cervicitis

The cervix (the neck of the womb) can become inflamed, which causes discomfort, bleeding and irregular discharge. Cervicitis can cause chlamydia symptoms such as pain during intercourse, burning during urination and an urgent need to urinate. If left untreated, it can result in cervical cysts, backache, deep pelvic pain and vaginal discharge.

Bartholinitis

If a chlamydia infection isn't treated, it can result in the blockage and infection of the Bartholin's glands. Bartholin glands sit on both sides of the vaginal opening and release fluid during intercourse to provide lubrication. If these glands get blocked due to infection, this may result in a cyst or an abscess. These abscesses are usually red and painful and can cause a severe fever.

Diagnosis of chlamydia

Chlamydia is easy to test for and diagnose. You can get tested at your local GP or GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinic – you’re entitled to a chlamydia test even if you’re not experiencing any symptoms. Alternatively, you can order a test kit on our website. We provide a chlamydia urine test for men and a swab test for women, both test kits come with detailed instructions and are easy to use. As chlamydia is highly prevalent among 16 to 25 year olds, chlamydia tests are now offered at most youth clubs and universities, too.

The importance of early treatment

Prompt chlamydia treatment is very important to ensure that the infection doesn't spread and cause complications or irreparable damage. Chlamydia is treated with a single course of antibiotic, doxycycline. If you've been diagnosed, it's important that you contact all previous partners to let them know that they may be infected, too. If you would like to remain anonymous, your GUM clinic or test kit provider may be able to contact your previous partners for you.

If your test result was positive or your partner has been diagnosed with chlamydia, you can order your treatment from Zava and have it delivered to your home or work address.

Why is azithromycin no longer recommended for chlamydia?

There's now increased bacterial resistance to azithromycin. Because of this, the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV only recommends doxycycline as a first-line treatment for chlamydia infections.

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Dr Kathryn Basford is a qualified GP who works as a GP in London, as well as with Zava. She graduated from the University of Manchester and completed her GP training through Whipps Cross Hospital in London.

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Last reviewed: 30 Apr 2019

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