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Chlamydia Testing

Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease in women, which is why chlamydia testing is so important.

A urine sample analyzed by a physician determines if the patient is infected with chlamydia. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
A urine sample analyzed by a physician determines if the patient is infected with chlamydia.

Chlamydia Testing

Chlamydia testing is the best way for people to find out if they have contracted this common infection. Caused by bacteria, Chlamydia is the most frequently-reported sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. Men and women can be infected by chlamydia from sexual intercourse or sexual contact, and -- because it is often symptomless -- it can be very hard to detect based on visual or superficial evidence alone. Fortunately, chlamydia testing is accurate, reliable and relatively easy to undergo.

Prevalence and Symptoms of Chlamydia

Like other STIs, chlamydia is transmitted through sexual contact, including vaginal, oral and anal sex. Unlike some other STIs, however, chlamydia is surprisingly common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over one million new cases were reported in 2006. Because many people do not know they have chlamydia and because those who do often seek treatment for their symptoms without knowing their cause, this number may actually be much higher.

Many people with chlamydia do not develop symptoms, but when they do, they may experience some or even all of the following:

• Genital discharge
• Pain during sex
• A burning sensation during urination
• Pain around the lower abdominals, lower back or, in men, testicles
• Nausea
• Fever

Some of these symptoms - for example, nausea and fever - can also be signs of a general bacterial or viral infection such as the flu, making it difficult for people to know if they actually have chlamydia.

Who Should Undergo Chlamydia Testing

Chlamydia can affect anyone who is sexually active, but U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, WomensHealth.gov strongly recommends that people who meet the following criteria be tested at least once a year:

• Under 25 years old and sexually active
• Over 25 years old and have sex with a new partner, multiple partners or a partner who has multiple partners
• Pregnant women

People who have unprotected sex in a non-monogamous relationship or who show signs of a chlamydia infection should also consider being tested. Additionally, although men and women can both contract the disease, it most often affects women between the ages of 15 and 19, underscoring the importance of both safe sex and regular testing.

What Chlamydia Testing is Like

Doctors use two procedures to test patients for chlamydia: a swab test and a urine sample. During the swab test, the doctor will collect sample fluid from the patient's penis or cervix and use a cell culture, DNA test or antibody test to see if chlamydia bacteria are present. Testing with a urine sample is much the same, except the laboratory tests are run on the urine and not genital fluid.

Why Chlamydia Testing is Important

According to the Mayo Clinic, nearly half of all untreated chlamydia infections lead to pelvic inflammatory disease in women, which is one of the primary known causes of infertility. Additionally, women with chlamydia are five times more likely to contract HIV than those without it, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, WomensHealth.gov. For these reasons, as well as the ease with which chlamydia can be transmitted between partners, it is extremely important (and prudent) for people of all ages who are sexually active to get tested on a regular basis.

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