What is a chlamydia?
Chlamydia is a very common sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium ‘chlamydia trachomatis’. It can infect both men and women, though the symptoms will be slightly different. Many people have no visible symptoms at all, although it can still be harmful and spread to sexual partners.
Chlamydia infects the neck of the womb (cervix) and uterus in women. In men, it can infect the urethra. Chlamydia can also cause infection of the eyes, throat and rectum (bottom).
Most people get infected with chlamydia through vaginal, anal or oral sex.
How common is chlamydia?
Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the UK, especially in young adults. Recently, about 60% of reported chlamydia cases were found in young people under 25 years. In 2018, around 104,000 men and around 130,000 women were diagnosed with chlamydia.
What are the symptoms of chlamydia?
The symptoms of chlamydia are slightly different in men and women.
Some common symptoms of chlamydia in men are:
- pain from the end part of your penis
- discharge from your penis or bottom
- burning pain when you pass urine
- painful or swollen testicles
Some common symptoms of chlamydia in women are:
- discharge from your vagina
- burning pain when passing urine
- pain or discomfort in your lower tummy after sex
- spotting or bleeding in between your usual monthly periods
- bleeding after having sex
About 7 in 10 men and 5 in 10 women infected with chlamydia may be asymptomatic (do not have any chlamydia symptoms). This makes it easier to pass on chlamydia to other sexual partners, as you might be unaware that you have the infection. This will mean you will not get treatment or take precautions against spread.
If you have had unprotected sex with someone who may have chlamydia, you should get tested for chlamydia as soon as possible.
Can chlamydia go away on its own?
No. Chlamydia does not usually go away without treatment, but some people can have chlamydia without noticeable symptoms for weeks or months.
What happens if chlamydia is left untreated?
If you have chlamydia and it is left untreated for a long time, it can cause serious complications.
In men, untreated chlamydia may cause:
- reduced fertility
- reactive arthritis (painful swollen joints)
- an infection (known as epididymo-orchitis) of the testicles and epididymis (tube carrying sperm from the testicles)
Complications of untreated chlamydia in women are:
- pelvic inflammatory disease which can cause pain, infertility and increase the risk of having ectopic pregnancies
- reactive arthritis (painful swollen joints)
- pregnancy complications like miscarriages, premature births and stillbirths
Chlamydia infections are now one of the most commonly encountered sexually transmitted infections, particularly in females between the ages of 18-35.
Part of the cause of the huge increase is due to the fact that, unlike other STIs, the symptoms associated with Female Chlamydia are very difficult to detect. This also applies to male cohorts and, as a result, the spread of the disease has been dramatic. Once diagnosed, chlamydia infections can be easily treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, females can develop a range of complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), damage to the fallopian tubes which may inhibit or prevent conception in later life and, lastly, an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy. Our SELFCheck Female Chlamydia screening test requires a swab from the lower vaginal area, which is then immersed in a solution to detect the presence or absence of chlamydia organisms. The test detects chlamydia trachomatis infection. The test can be carried out in under 5 minutes and produces an easy to read visual result.
IMPORTANT: This test is not suitable for use if you are pregnant or during a period.
The treatment for chlamydia is a course of antibiotics. The most common antibiotics used to treat chlamydia are doxycycline (the first line treatment for most people)
If you have an increased risk of complications from chlamydia, your doctor may prescribe a longer course of antibiotics.
You may also be prescribed different antibiotic options if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have allergies to some antibiotics.
What is the best antibiotic for chlamydia?
Currently, the first line preferred antibiotic for treating chlamydia is doxycycline 100mg, which you should take twice daily for 7 days. Doxycycline is the most effective antibiotic treatment for chlamydia, and is 95% effective.
While doxycycline is the best option for most people, in some cases it may not be suitable. Doxycycline is not recommended if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, so you will need a different antibiotic.
Azithromycin is another treatment for chlamydia which used to be the first line but is no longer recommended as the preferred option. The guideline was changed in 2018 because azithromycin was not as effective in treating chlamydia which has spread to the rectum or anal area, but doxycycline was effective in such cases. In addition, the use of single dose azithromycin was causing antibiotic resistance of other sexually transmitted infections.
Is chlamydia treatment the same for men and women?
Yes, the treatment for chlamydia is usually the same for men and women. The exceptions are usually if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or allergic to certain antibiotics.
How does chlamydia treatment work?
Chlamydia treatment works by stopping the bacteria that causes chlamydia from producing an important protein which it needs to multiply. This stops the bacteria from growing and replicating, so your symptoms should improve as your body is cleared of chlamydia.
The first line treatment for chlamydia in the UK is doxycycline. The usual dose is one tablet to be taken twice daily for 7 days. You can swallow doxycycline tablets whole with water and take them with or without food. You should sit up for about 30 minutes after each dose to prevent symptoms of throat irritation or stomach upset.
How effective is chlamydia treatment?
Antibiotics are very effective in treating chlamydia. About 95% of people being treated for chlamydia will be cured if they take the antibiotics correctly as prescribed.
How long does it take for chlamydia to go away after treatment?
Chlamydia infection usually clears after one week of completing your antibiotic treatment. During treatment, you should avoid drinking alcohol as this can reduce how effective the antibiotic is.
You should also avoid having sex (with or without condoms) during treatment as you could still pass on the infection to your partner. It is common for partners to pass chlamydia between one another if they continue to have sex without completing their treatment, causing repeated infections.
How long do chlamydia symptoms last after treatment?
Your chlamydia symptoms should improve after your antibiotics treatment course. If they do not improve, you may need to book for another chlamydia test in the first instance.
When can I have sex again after taking chlamydia treatment?
It takes 1 full week of treatment to be effective. You should avoid any sexual contact, both with or without a condom, for 7 days after starting treatment as you could still be contagious.
How do you know if chlamydia is gone after treatment?
Your chlamydia symptoms should improve within a week of completing your course of antibiotics.
You do not need an immediate follow-up test to check if your chlamydia treatment has worked, as dead chlamydia bacteria may be detected 3 to 5 weeks after treatment, which would give a false positive result. But, if you have a rectal infection, you should have a test after treatment is completed.
If you are under 25 and have tested positive for chlamydia, it is recommended you take a repeat test 3 months after completing your treatment, to check you have not caught chlamydia again.
Can chlamyida come back after treatment?
In some cases, you may test positive for chlamydia again after treatment.
This could happen if you:
- had unprotected sex before completing your treatment
- did not take your antibiotics correctly
What are the side effects of chlamydia treatment?
While doxycycline is an effective treatment for chlamydia, some people may have side effects when taking this chlamydia treatment.
Some common doxycycline side effects may include:
- low blood pressure
- vision problems
- increased sensitivity to light (itching, rashes, sunburn after sun exposure)
- nausea or being sick (vomiting)
- palpitations (increased heartbeat)
- shortness of breath
Some uncommon or rare doxycycline side effects may include:
- vaginal infection
- yeast infection in the genital areas
- decreased appetite
- stomach ulcers
- joint or muscle pain
If you have any side effects when taking doxycycline, tell your doctor as soon as possible.
The full list of doxycycline side effects and cautions can be found in the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine package.
When taking doxycycline, you should avoid drinking alcohol as it reduces doxycycline’s effectiveness. You should also avoid sunlight as increased sensitivity to light has been reported as a side effect of doxycycline.
You should stop taking doxycycline and seek immediate medical attention if you develop any of the following rare but severe side effects, or symptoms of an allergic reaction:
- Ringing in your ear (tinnitus)
- Fever, swollen lymph nodes or skin rash (could be symptoms of a life-threatening drug reaction known as DRESS – Drug Reaction with Eosinophilia and Systemic Symptoms)
- Symptoms of an allergic reaction such as difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest pain, swollen face, lips, mouth, hand or feet
How to take doxycyline for chlamydia?
Doxycycline 100mg capsules should be taken twice a day, for 7 to 10 days to treat chlamydia. Space your 2 doses evenly throughout the day. Take your capsules with a glass of water, with or without food. Make sure to take doxycycline in an upright position, such as sitting or standing. You should keep taking doxycycline until your treatment is finished, even if you feel better.
When to take doxycylcine
Doxycycline is prescribed twice a day for chlamydia. You should space these 2 doses evenly throughout the day, such as a capsule in the morning and a capsule in the evening.
How much doxycylcine to take
You should take 100mg of doxycycline twice a day, for 7 to 10 days. If you are unsure, read your prescription or check the medicine packaging.
Can I buy doxycycline from the pharmacy?
Yes, you must first take a chlamydia test, which can be bought through our service. If you have tested positive for chlamydia, you may be eligible to purchase doxycycline.
One of our pharmacists will review this and prescribe you with doxycycline, if it is suitable for you.
Can I buy doxycycline over the counter?
No, doxycycline must be prescribed to you so cannot be bought over the counter without a prescription.
Can I get doxycycline on the NHS?
Yes, if you visit your GP or a local sexual health clinic, you can be prescribed doxycycline to treat chlamydia.
Doxycycline side effects
Doxycycline can have some side effects, but this does not mean everyone will get them. You should stop taking doxycycline straight away and visit A&E if you get:
- a skin rash, fever, and swollen lymph nodes, as this may be a sign of a severe drug reaction
- a buzzing in your ears, as this could be a sign of tinnitus
- severe skin reactions
- symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as swelling in the face, chest pain, fever, and difficulty breathing
The common side effects of doxycycline include:
- increased heart rate
- shortness of breath
- sensitivity to sunlight
- increased pressure in your skull which can cause headaches, blurred visions, or blind spots
- low blood pressure
- nausea or vomiting (feeling or being sick)
- an inflammation of your small blood vessels, known as Henoch-Schonlein purpura
Uncommon side effects include:
- infections of your vagina, such as thrush
Rare side effects include:
- jaundice, yellowing of your skin and whites of your eyes
- yeast infection around your genitals or anus
- an increase in the amount of urea in your blood
- aches in your muscles and joints
- loose finger or toenails after exposure to sun (photoonycholysis)
- peeling and redness of your skin
- liver failure
- hepatitis, which is inflammation of your liver
- severe, bloody, or watery diarrhoea
- inflammation of your colon
- blood disorders
- porphyria, which is a sensitivity to sunlight, stomach pains, and inflammation of nerves
- discolouration of thyroid tissue
- a decrease in appetite
- ulcers or inflammation in your gastrointestinal tract
- changes in your liver function tests
You may not get any of these side effects, but if you do and they do not go away in a few days, speak to your doctor. If you get any serious side effects, speak to your doctor, call 111 or 999, or visit A&E straight away.
Doxycycline and sun
Doxycycline can cause your skin to become more sensitive to sunlight than usual. Any exposure to sunlight, even for a small amount of time, could cause itching, rash, redness, severe sunburn, or discolouration of your skin. Whilst taking doxycycline make sure you:
- cover your skin as much as possible
- wear sunglasses
- do not use tanning beds or sunlamps
- apply sunscreen with a high SPF before you go out and during the day
- use a sunscreen lip balm
- stay out of the sun as much as you can
If you do get sunburn, treat this as you normally would. If you are worried about your symptoms, speak to your doctor.
Doxycycline dizziness and fatigue
Doxycycline may cause dizziness and fatigue. This is usually a sign of low blood pressure. If you get dizziness and fatigue that does not go away, speak to your doctor.
One of the most common side effects of doxycycline is headaches. You can treat this with paracetamol and ibuprofen, as these are safe to take with doxycycline.
If you get a severe headache with vomiting or vision problems, this may be a sign that you have increased pressure in your brain. If you get these side effects, go to A&E straight away.
How long do doxycycline side effects last
Doxycycline side effects may only last a few days, whilst your body gets used to the medication. For some patients, side effects may last for the whole treatment course. Most of these side effects can be treated at home. If they bother you too much, speak to your doctor.
What to do if you get doxycycline side effects
If you get any common doxycycline side effects, these can be treated at home. The most common side effect is headaches. To treat this, drink plenty of water, rest, and use over the counter painkillers.
If you get an upset stomach whilst taking doxycycline, make sure to take your capsules with food, as this can help. Avoid eating spicy or rich foods during this time. Avoid dairy products like cheese and milk. You should also take your capsules whilst in an upright position, such as sitting.