A doctor’s guide to understanding chlamydia

How early detection and treatment reduce the risk of complications

by Medical Director Lisa Oldson, MD

Did you know that as recently as 5 to 10 years ago, I tested patients for chlamydia by inserting a long, thin Q-Tip into the penis for men, and into the cervix for women? For most men, that exam was seriously painful…and it was definitely uncomfortable for women, too.

Chlamydia testing has come a long way since then, and now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend annual chlamydia screenings for all sexually active adolescents and women age 25 and under. Why? Because, in the United States, there are approximately 2.8 million new chlamydia infections every year, most often diagnosed in young women and women of color.

Most patients have no symptoms with a chlamydia infection…which is why getting tested for chlamydia is so important. Those who do report symptoms of chlamydia infection may experience a discharge from the vagina or penis, burning with urination, pelvic discomfort or bleeding during sex.

Our team of sexual health counselors field questions on a daily basis about the “accuracy” of our tests. They understand that there isn’t a single figure to define accuracy…rather, we define accuracy in terms of sensitivity and specificity.

For example, the chlamydia test we offer is a urine test that’s called the Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT). Recommended by the CDC, this test is extremely specific…which means that, if it says you have chlamydia, you almost certainly have it. The test is 98.5% specific for men and 98.9% specific for women.

Sensitivity of the test is a bit lower, however, meaning that it picks up chlamydia in 94.7% of women and 97.7% of men who are infected. That said, the NAAT is highly effective and there’s no better, non-invasive chlamydia test available today.

If you get tested for chlamydia and it turns out that you’re positive, I have good news for you: chlamydia is curable.

If a chlamydia infection goes untreated, however, there’s a risk of complications. For example, some women develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a potentially serious infection of the female reproductive system. And, according to the CDC, PID causes up to 10-15% of these women to become infertile.

What about men and chlamydia? Although men are less likely to develop complications, epididymitis (an infection of the tubes that carry sperm from the testes) or prostatitis (an infection of the prostate gland) are possible complications from an untreated chlamydia infection.

The takeaway? The sooner you get tested for chlamydia ⎼ and treated, if necessary ⎼ the better. Do you know your STD status? If not, perhaps you’ll allow me to lead you through this quick and easy STD Test Recommender to help you decide if testing for chlamydia or other STDs makes sense for you.

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One Response to “A doctor’s guide to understanding chlamydia”

  1. Antone M. says:

    Appreciate your spreading all these practical information… AM

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