Chlamydia infection, often simply known as chlamydia, is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. Most people who are infected have no symptoms. When symptoms do develop this can take a few weeks following infection to occur.
Looking after your sexual health is just as important as any other area of your health. In England alone, over 400,000 people are newly diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) each year, and this figure is by no means falling.
And although many people who have an STI are asymptomatic, being aware of what’s normal for your own body (and what’s not) can help you identify if anything is wrong.
Here are some potential signs that show something could be up to your sexual health:
- Lumps and bumps around your genitals: Discovering a bump or a lump in your vagina, your vulva (the outer genital area) or scrotum is common and in most cases, it’s not a sign of anything serious. Ingrown hairs, for instance, are common, and can cause lumps and bumps around the genitals – especially if you shave the area and have sensitive skin. However, they can also be an indicator of an infection, such as genital warts. Sue Burchill, Head of Nursing for the sexual health charity Brook says: “Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and are small growths or bumps that appear on or around the genital or anal area. They are usually painless but look unpleasant and this can be distressing. You don’t need to have penetrative sex to pass on genital warts, but they can be passed on during vaginal or anal sex, or by sharing sex toys. If you’re at all concerned, get checked out as soon as possible.”
2 Pain or burning when you pee: Lots of people notice something isn’t quite right with their sexual health when they experience pain, burning or stinging whilst urinating. Most commonly this may be due to an infection of the bladder, cystitis, which between 20 – 40% of women will get in their lifetime. This isn’t an STI but may be caused by one, says Sue.
According to Sue, pain or burning when you pee can actually be a symptom of several STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. If you’re experiencing this, speak to your doctor because if it isn’t an STI, it may still need treatment.
- A change in your discharge: Discharge is something that all of us experience, some more than others. It’s often your body’s way of signaling to you about changes or if something isn’t quite right.
“If you notice discharge from the vagina, penis or rectum that is unusual for you (6 things your discharge is trying to tell you), it could be an STI,” says Sue. “Often a discharge that is an unusual green or yellow may be down to gonorrhea. Whilst with trichomoniasis, you may experience a frothy, yellow-green and/or fishy smelling vaginal discharge. If it’s odorless, thick, white, white and a bit like cottage cheese, it’s likely to be a yeast infection or thrush.”
- Irregular bleeding: There are many things that can cause irregular bleeding, and some may not be anything to worry about. But if you’ve had unprotected sex or you’re concerned about your period, it’s advised to speak to your GP, says Sue. “It could be due to an infection, such as chlamydia, or it could be a result of your contraception. It may also be caused by a recent miscarriage or abortion, injury to the vagina, polycystic ovary syndrome, stress or vaginal dryness.”
- Any kind of pain: Some STIs may cause symptoms such as pain or an unusual discomfort. “Pain can be your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong, or part of you needs some care and attention,” explains Sue.
If you feel persistent lower abdominal pain (or pain or swelling in the testicles for men) this could be an indication of chlamydia, gonorrhea or trichomoniasis, so get it checked out and don’t ignore it.
Although it’s really common, if you’re finding sex painful, don’t ignore it. According to Sue, whether it’s your first time or not, sex shouldn’t be painful. “Pain or bleeding during sex or after sex could be an indication of chlamydia or trichomoniasis,” she says.
An eye infection: In some STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, it’s possible to transfer infected semen or vaginal fluid to the eye where it can cause an eye infection, says Bekki Burbidge, Deputy Chief Executive of the sexual health charity FPA.
- No symptoms at all: It’s very common to have an STI, but not notice any signs or symptoms. This may be due to the symptoms being mild, or you may have symptoms without realizing, warns Bekki.
“Chlamydia is one of the most commonly diagnosed STIs, but more than two in three women and one in two men with chlamydia won’t have any obvious signs or symptoms or will have symptoms so mild they’re not noticed,” she says. “Genital herpes is also common and many people have the herpes virus without ever knowing it. And around half of women and around one in 10 men with genital gonorrhea won’t have signs or symptoms.”
You can’t tell whether someone has an STI just by looking at them, so if you’ve had unprotected sex with a new partner or someone whose STI status you’re not sure of, then it’s time to get tested.
If you notice anything unusual or something doesn’t feel quite right, it’s important to visit your GP or sexual health professional for an examination.