How Long Can You Have Chlamydia Before it Causes Damage?

A woman clutches her pelvis in pain.
  • Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection that is caused by bacteria and affects the genitals.

  • An infection is easily treatable with a course of antibiotics that kill harmful bacteria and relieve other symptoms.

  • If left untreated, a chlamydia infection can cause severe lifelong medical complications that could be fatal.

Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs), affecting nearly four million Americans each year.

Although it is easy to treat, chlamydia can cause lifelong complications if the proper steps aren’t taken.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at these potential complications, how chlamydia is treated, and how you can prevent future infections.

What is Chlamydia?

Chlamydia — also known as chlamydia trachomatis — is a bacterial infection that affects the genitals and, in rare cases, the eyes.

It’s usually spread through penetrative sexual intercourse like vaginal or anal sex and affects both men and women.

Chlamydia can also be spread through non-penetrative actions like oral sex.

Most people with chlamydia don’t show symptoms, but they can develop later on. Common signs of a chlamydia infection may include:

  • Fever

  • Painful and frequent urination

  • Discomfort and pain during sex

  • Painful or swollen genitals

  • Foul smelling discharge

  • Chronic pelvic pain

What Happens if You Don’t Treat Chlamydia?

If chlamydia is left untreated, it can cause lifelong medical complications that in severe cases may even result in death. Men and women experience different complications from chlamydia.

In this section, we’ll take a closer look at each group.

Complications for women

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

PID is an infection of the female reproductive organs — specifically involving the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or uterus.

If left untreated, PID can cause complications during pregnancy and may lead to infertility.

Ectopic pregnancy

This condition occurs when a fertilized egg grows outside of the uterus, usually in one of the fallopian tubes.

If the pregnancy is ectopic, it can’t proceed normally because the egg can’t survive outside of the uterus.

If the egg is left to grow, it can cause the fallopian tube to rupture, which may lead to internal bleeding.

Complications for men


Epididymitis is an infection of the testicles that causes pain, inflammation, and swelling. A severe infection can also cause abscesses to form on the scrotum.

If epididymitis is left untreated, it may lead to infertility.

Prostate gland infection (Prostatitis)

This condition causes the prostate gland to become inflamed and swollen. Prostatitis can also cause secondary infections of the urinary tract, which can be extremely painful.

What are the Risks of Untreated Chlamydia?

Alongside lifelong medical complications, leaving chlamydia untreated may increase your risk of developing other chronic diseases like human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

These risks are the same for men and women.


An untreated chlamydia infection significantly increases a person’s chance of contracting HIV in a few ways. These are:

  • Chlamydia can cause inflammation: When a person is infected with chlamydia, it can cause inflammation in the genital area, which may result in sores. These sores can then make it easier for the HIV virus to enter the body.

  • Chlamydia can increase viral shedding: People who have undetected HIV infections may have an increased viral load in their bodies if they have chlamydia. This increases the risk of passing HIV to a sexual partner through viral shedding.

  • Chlamydia can weaken the immune system: If an infection is left untreated, it can start to weaken the immune system and leave the body more susceptible to disease. It also makes it harder for the body to fight against conditions like HIV.

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How Long Can You Have an Untreated Infection?

It’s not recommended to leave a chlamydia infection untreated for more than a year.

If you don’t treat your infection, there is an increased risk of permanent damage to the reproductive organs.

A long-term chlamydia infection may also increase your chances of contracting other STIs and more severe medical conditions like HIV.

In men, untreated chlamydia can even lead to sterility — also known as an inability to make sperm.

It might be difficult to determine if you have chlamydia, especially if you don’t show any symptoms. That’s why it’s important to get tested regularly to be sure.

This also allows you to start treatment right away, which helps prevent permanent damage to the body.

How is Chlamydia Treated?

Chlamydia is usually treated with a course of antibiotics that kills harmful bacteria and provides symptomatic relief.

Depending on the severity of your infection, your doctor may prescribe a different dosage regime.

During or after your treatment, your doctor may also recommend the following to help you avoid reinfection:

  • Abstaining from any sexual activities until you’ve finished your antibiotics course

  • Getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) more regularly, especially if you remain sexually active

  • Making sure that your sexual partners don’t have any STDs

  • Avoid having unprotected sex

Where Can I Learn More About Chlamydia and Other STDs?

If you suspect that you have chlamydia, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible.

Speak to one of our board-certified physicians or nurse practitioner from the comfort of your home, today.

Head over to LifeMD to make a telehealth appointment.

Dr. Anthony Puopolo

Dr. Puopolo holds a B.A. in Biology from Tufts University, M.A. in Biology from Boston University, and Doctor of Medicine from the Boston University School of Medicine. He also completed a Family Medicine and Psychiatry residency program in the U.S. Army.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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