Chlamydia trachomatis is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Chlamydia can lead to serious complications if untreated.

It can be hard to know if you have chlamydia since it doesn’t always have noticeable symptoms. However, it’s easy for a doctor to collect samples for chlamydia testing.

You can have a chlamydia infection in your:

Learn more about the ins and outs of testing and how you can get it done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there are over 1.8 million cases of chlamydia in the United States each year.

You may not have any symptoms of chlamydia at first, which is why this particular STI is so easy to spread to others without knowing it.

After 1 to 2 weeks of exposure, you may start seeing signs of an infection. Symptoms may include:

Chlamydia symptoms

  • pelvic pain
  • painful intercourse (particularly in people with a vagina)
  • testicular pain (in people with testicles)
  • lower abdominal pain
  • painful urination
  • frequent urination (especially in people with a penis)
  • vaginal/penile discharge that’s yellow in color
  • bleeding between periods and/or after sex (in people with a uterus)
  • rectal pain or discharge

To determine if chlamydia trachomatis bacteria is present, a medical professional will collect cell samples and send them to a lab for testing. This can be collected via swab or urine sample.

Here’s what to expect if you’re tested for chlamydia.

Swab method if you have a vagina

To collect a sample for testing, you will be asked to remove your clothes from the waist down and wear a paper gown or cover with a paper blanket. You will be asked to lie on an exam table and place your feet in rests called stirrups.

A medical professional (doctor, nurse, or physician assistant) will use a swab or very small brush to gently swab or rub any of the following areas:

  • your vagina
  • inside your vagina at your cervix (the opening of your uterus)
  • your anus
  • inside your mouth and throat

If more than one sample is taken, a new, clean swab will be used for each sample. The swabs are sent to the lab for testing to determine if chlamydia trachomatis bacteria is present.

Swab method if you have a penis

You will be asked to remove your pants and underwear and cover with a paper blanket. You may be asked to sit on an exam table.

A medical professional (doctor, nurse, or physician assistant) will swab the head of your penis with alcohol or another sterile agent. Next, they’ll insert a cotton swab into your urethra at the tip of your penis.

The medical professional may also use a swab or very small brush to gently rub your anus, inside your mouth and throat, or both.

If more than one sample is taken, a new, clean swab will be used for each sample. The swabs are sent to the lab for testing to determine if chlamydia trachomatis bacteria is present.

Urine sample

A medical professional will give you a specimen cup to urinate into. You may also be given a packet that contains a cleaning wipe, or there may be individually packaged cleaning wipes in the restroom.

To collect a clean urine sample, you will need to clean your genital area by wiping with a cleaning wipe. Next, begin to urinate and then slip the sample cup into the urine stream. Collect the sample, and finish peeing.

Submit the sample as instructed by your doctor’s office. Often, inside the doctor’s office restroom, there’s a shelf with a small door for you to leave your urine sample. Medical staff will open the small door after you exit the restroom and take your sample to the lab for testing.

You may be asked to avoid taking antibiotics for 24 hours before testing. If you have a vagina, your healthcare professional may recommend you stop using douches or vaginal creams for 24 hours before your test. If you‘re taking a urine test, try not to urinate for at least 1 hour before the test.

If you think you may have chlamydia, avoid sexual intercourse until you get your test results.

There are home kits for collecting samples for chlamydia testing. These tests are mailed to a lab for analysis, and results will be sent to you. Research from 2015 has found that home tests may be as effective for diagnosing chlamydia as swabs collected at your doctor’s office.

However, it’s important to note that home testing kits can sometimes return false-negative results. A 2017 study asked men to self-collect a sample for chlamydia testing both at a clinic and at home using a mail-in kit. Researchers found that over one-third of the mail-in samples missed a positive result that was detected in the samples collected at the clinic.

The researchers note that it’s possible that the collection technique when using a home test may affect the quality of the sample and therefore affect your result. Because of this, be sure to follow all sample collection instructions carefully if you choose to do a home test for chlamydia.

Compare the best home chlamydia tests here.

If you receive a positive result from a home testing kit, you will need to go immediately to a doctor to receive treatment. Until you have completed treatment, you can give chlamydia to your sexual partners.

If you’re diagnosed with chlamydia, prompt treatment will help prevent any long-term complications. The key is to test for this bacterial infection before it spreads.

If you receive a negative result on a home chlamydia test but know you’ve been exposed to chlamydia or have symptoms of chlamydia, it’s still important to see a doctor. They can perform a test in their office to help make a diagnosis.

You can get a chlamydia test from:

  • your primary care doctor
  • a gynecologist
  • an urgent care facility
  • a family planning clinic, such as Planned Parenthood
  • student health clinics
  • your local health department
  • a home testing kit service

Find affordable testing

There are clinics that can perform chlamydia testing at a low cost. In some cases, you may obtain testing free of charge. You can find a clinic through the American Sexual Health Association’s free locator here. All results are confidential.

Since it’s a bacterial infection, chlamydia is treated with oral antibiotics. Depending on the severity of the infection, you’ll need to take your prescription for about 7 days, according to the CDC. Be sure to finish the entire prescription. Just because your symptoms improve, it doesn’t mean the infection has fully cleared.

You’ll also need to avoid all sexual activity during the course of your treatment until the infection clears up. This will reduce the risk of reinfection or transmitting the infection.

Due to the prevalence of chlamydia, it’s important to get yearly tests if you:

  • are under the age of 25 and are also sexually active, especially if you’re female
  • have sex with multiple partners
  • have a history of STIs or are treating another type of STI
  • don’t use condoms regularly
  • are male and you have sex with other males
  • have a partner who has told you they’ve recently tested positive for chlamydia

You may need to get tested more often than once a year.

If you’re pregnant, you’ll need to get a chlamydia test during your first prenatal appointment. Your gynecologist or nurse midwife may also recommend another test later in your pregnancy if you have any of the above risk factors.

Chlamydia can cause complications in pregnant people and also lead to problems at birth, such as pneumonia and eye infections.

After you’ve had chlamydia, you should get retested after 3 months. This helps reduce the risk of reinfection or transmitting the infection.

It can take a few days to get your results from a swab test, similar to a Pap smear test. If you have a vagina, you may also be able to obtain an at-home kit to do the vaginal testing on your own.

Your doctor will call you with the results of your test. Be sure you give your doctor your preferred phone number where you can have privacy, such as a mobile phone number. If you don’t want them to leave you a voicemail, be sure you tell them before you leave your appointment.

A urine test is much faster to analyze. Your doctor should be able to tell you the results on the same day as your appointment. The downside is that urine tests may not be as accurate as traditional swab testing.

However, urine testing may be more suitable for people assigned male at birth. It’s also used for more advanced signs of chlamydia, as your body will have a greater number of bacteria to detect at this stage.

If you receive a chlamydia diagnosis, your partners need to be tested, too. Since this bacterial infection is highly contagious, it spreads easily through sexual contact.

You and your partners may need regular testing until the infection fully disappears. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to use barrier methods during sexual contact, such as using condoms.

What is a rapid chlamydia test?

The rapid chlamydia test means that patients can receive treatment immediately, instead of having to wait. If your test comes back positive, you have the opportunity to get treatment immediately rather than having to wait for a prescription.

Which chlamydia test is best?

A cervical swab provides the most accurate test results for chlamydia and can easily be done during a routine Pap test. Plus, you have the added benefit of a general genital health checkup.

How long can you have chlamydia without knowing?

The majority of people who have chlamydia don’t experience any symptoms at all.

And even if you do have symptoms, they may not show up until 1 week to 3 or more months after the infection has been transmitted to you through sexual intercourse.

Chlamydia is a highly contagious, yet extremely treatable STI. The key to successful treatment is early diagnosis.

Even if you don’t have symptoms of chlamydia, you may want to get tested. This is especially true if you have any risk factors for chlamydia. The sooner your doctor can diagnose chlamydia, the sooner you’ll be on your way to treatment.