To screen for or diagnose chlamydia infection
If you are sexually active and have one or more risk factors for developing chlamydia, or have symptoms of infection e.g. discharge from the vagina or penis.
Your health care team may use a swab to take a sample of cells or secretion from the infected area, or you may be asked to provide a urine sample. Women may be asked for a self taken vaginal swab.
Tell your healthcare provider about any use of antibiotics or, for women, douches or vaginal creams; you may be asked to avoid using these within 24 hours before testing vaginal samples since they may affect test results. Menstruation will not affect results. For a urine sample, you may be instructed to wait one to two hours after you last urinated before collecting the sample. Follow any instructions you are given.
How is it used?
The test is used in two ways:
- to diagnose the cause of symptoms, and
- to screen sexually active people for infection with the bacterium.
A definitive diagnosis is important because chlamydia can resemble gonorrhoea, and the two infections require different antibiotic treatment.
When is it requested?
A doctor may request the test if you have symptoms such as vaginal discharge and abdominal pain (for women) or unusual discharge from the penis or pain on urination (for men). However, about 70% of infected women and 50% of infected men show no active symptoms, but can still infect a sexual partner without knowing.
Risk factors for Chlamydia infection include age under 25 years, having new or multiple sexual partners, having sex with someone who has other partners, and not using barrier contraceptives such as condoms. You may wish, or your doctor may suggest, that you be screened for the infection if you have any of these risk factors.
What does the test result mean?
Is there anything else I should know?
Chlamydia is often called “the silent epidemic” because infections are very common yet many people do not know that they are infected. Chlamydia is especially widespread among young people under the age of 25. A National Chlamydia Screening Programme is underway in England, to screen for the infection in asymptomatic sexually active men and women under 25 years of age. The aim of the programme is to reduce infection rates and spread of the disease, to so reduce the consequences of untreated infections.
Chlamydia is easily treated, but if left untreated, it can cause severe reproductive and other health problems, particularly in women. If you are infected, your sexual partner(s) should also be tested and treated as well.
The diagnosis of a sexually transmitted disease should not be ruled out if the test is negative; patients' clinical symptoms and history should also be considered.
What are the symptoms of chlamydia?
Most infected people have no symptoms, so they do not seek treatment. For women, symptoms (if they occur) include bleeding between menstrual periods and after sexual intercourse, abdominal pain, painful intercourse, and an abnormal vaginal discharge. For men, symptoms include pus or milky discharge from the penis. Both sexes can experience painful or frequent urination.
What will happen if I don’t get treated?
If left untreated, women may develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) from areas of infection that start on the cervix but that can spread to the fallopian tubes and ovaries. This can cause infertility infertility and increase the risk of tubal or ectopic pregnancy, which may be fatal. Women who are infected and pregnant may experience heavy bleeding before delivery and premature rupture of the membranes. Men may develop pain and swelling of the testicles due to epididymitis and may become sterile. Both sexes may develop rectal itching and red, swollen, itchy eyes and arthritis.
How is chlamydia transmitted?
It is generally transmitted through sexual contact (oral, vaginal, or anal) with an infected partner. An infected mother can spread the disease to her baby during childbirth. These babies are in danger of developing conjunctivitis (an inflammation of the eyes that can threaten eyesight) and pneumonia.
How is it treated?
How can it be prevented?