Written by Andrea Pinto on August 4th, 2021
Chlamydia and gonorrhea are both common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that affect many people around the world. And although these two conditions share some similarities, there are also differences between chlamydia vs. gonorrhea that can help us distinguish between them.
Read on to discover the main differences between chlamydia vs. gonorrhea.
Chlamydia vs. gonorrhea: Whats the difference?
Both chlamydia and gonorrhea can be completely asymptomatic in a large number of people. According to the CDC, chlamydia is more prevalent than gonorrhea, with 1,800,000 new cases of chlamydia reported in the United States in 2019 vs. 600,000 cases of gonorrhea.
The discharge caused by chlamydia is more likely to have a strong, unpleasant smell and a cloudy appearance. Gonorrhea, on the other hand, tends to cause discharge that is white, yellow, or greenish.
Complications of both chlamydia and gonorrhea can include:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Tubal factor infertility
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Epididymitis in men, which can lead to infertility in rare cases
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Unlike gonorrhea, chlamydia can cause reactive arthritis in some cases. Untreated chlamydia eye infections can also lead to a chronic form of conjunctivitis, called trachoma.
According to the WHO, trachoma can cause irreversible blindness and it has been estimated to affect 137 million people around the world, mainly in endemic areas.
Untreated gonorrhea, on the other hand, can spread to the joints, skin, and valves of the heart. When it affects the joints, gonorrhea can cause a condition called septic arthritis. In very rare cases, gonorrhea can cause meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that protect the brain) or endocarditis (inflammation of the inner layer of the heart muscle).
There is a significant overlap between the symptoms of chlamydia vs. gonorrhea, and it’s possible to be infected with both STIs at the same time. In fact, a study published by the Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases and Medical Microbiology found that approximately 24% of men and 38% of women with gonorrhea also had chlamydia.
As a result, it’s not uncommon for physicians to choose to prescribe antibiotics that can treat both infections when one of them is diagnosed, especially in areas where STI testing is deficient. Fortunately, the antibiotics used to treat both conditions are typically widely available and highly effective.
What is chlamydia?
Chlamydia is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. According to the CDC, chlamydia is actually the most frequently reported bacterial STI in the United States, with approximately 4 million cases being reported in 2018.
This disease can be spread through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. You can also get chlamydia by sharing sex toys without covering them with a new condom for each partner, having infected semen or vaginal fluids get into your eyes, or genital-to-genital contact with an infected person (even if you don’t engage in penetrative intercourse).
Pregnant women with chlamydia can also pass the infection to their babies during childbirth. According to a study published by the journal Paediatrics Drugs, newborns with chlamydia can develop eye infections and pneumonia. Chlamydia during pregnancy can also increase the risk of preterm delivery.
According to the Mayo Clinic, risk factors for chlamydia include:
- Being a sexually active person under the age of 25
- Not using a condom regularly
- Having multiple sex partners
- Previous history of other STIs
Symptoms of chlamydia
Chlamydia often causes cervicitis in women, which is an inflammation of the cervix. According to the NHS, other symptoms of chlamydia can include:
- Painful urination (dysuria)
- Vaginal, penile, or anal discharge
- Lower abdominal pain
- Vaginal bleeding or spotting after sex or between periods
- Pain and swelling of the testicles
- Rectal pain and/or bleeding
Treatment for chlamydia
The good news is that chlamydia can be easily cured, as long as you receive the proper course of treatment. Chlamydia is typically treated with one of the following antibiotics:
If left untreated, chlamydia can cause permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system, which can lead to fertility problems.
According to the CDC, women under the age of 25 and older women with risk factors (which we mentioned above) should be tested for chlamydia every year. Screening for chlamydia should also be performed during a woman’s first prenatal checkup.
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What is gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea — which many people refer to as “the clap” — is caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae.
Gonorrhea is spread through sexual contact, which can include vaginal, anal, or oral sex. It can affect the genitals, rectum, and even the throat. According to the NHS, gonorrhea can also be spread by sharing sex toys. Pregnant women can also pass gonorrhea on to their babies during delivery, and it can lead to eye infections in newborns.
Symptoms of gonorrhea
According to the CDC, symptoms of gonorrhea can include:
- Painful urination
- Vaginal or penile discharge
- Painful or swollen testicles
- Vaginal bleeding between periods
- Heavier periods
- Anal pain, itching, and/or bleeding
- Painful defecation
Treatment for gonorrhea
Gonorrhea can be treated with the following antibiotics:
- Erythromycin (used to prevent conjunctivitis in newborns)
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Should you get tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea?
Higher-risk behavior includes engaging in sexual activity with multiple partners, drug use and practicing sexual activities with any person which haven’t received a negative result from a test, as being involved in previous sexual activities.
If you suspect that you may have been infected with Chlamydia, testing is the way to go.
Considering the harsh outcomes of leaving a chlamydia infection untreated, as well as the ease and price of today’s testing options, there’s absolutely no reason to remain in the dark.
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- Chlamydia - CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed) - cdc.gov
- Neonatal chlamydial infections: prevention and treatment - pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- Chlamydia trachomatis - mayoclinic.org
- Chlamydia - nhs.uk
- Chlamydia - CDC Fact Sheet - cdc.gov
- Gonorrhoea - nhs.uk
- Trachoma - who.int
- National Overview - Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance, 2019 - cdc.gov
- Risk of coinfection with Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae in Nova Scotia - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov