Do Pap Smears Detect Chlamydia?

Updated July 19, 2017

Chlamydia trachomatis is the most reported sexual transmitted infection in the United States. Sadly, the majority of infections in women are asymptomatic. It is important for sexually active people to be tested for the bacteria routinely.


Chlamydia can be detected by a blood, urine or swabs of the cervix, although a cervical sample is preferred. It cannot be diagnosed through a Pap test. However, during the pelvic exam, a physician can identify the signs of a pelvic and/or cervical infection and order the diagnostic tests. Although not diagnostic, there are some cellular changes that may be seen in a Pap test. The cells appear reactive and contain vacuoles or bubbles.


The current standard for chlamydia testing is the molecular-based test, the nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT). NAAT takes the DNA of the bacteria and amplifies it. This method is most widely accepted because it is more sensitive and specific than conventional cultures. Other testing mechanisms are direct fluorescent antibody stain (DFA) and DNA probe. DFAs are used to detect the antigens for chlamydia. The DNA probe is similar to NAAT but less sensitive. Bacterial cultures can also be grown and tested for strain.


Chlamydia symptoms begin 7 to 21 days post infection. Although the majority of females are asymptomatic, symptoms may include: nausea, fever, vaginal discharge, burning sensations during urination, abdominal pain, lower back pain, dyspareunia (pain during sex) and breakthrough bleeding.


If left undetected, chlamydia can progress into more serious medical conditions. It can spread to the uterus, Fallopian tubes and ovaries. Up to 40 per cent of infected women develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Complications such as chronic pelvic pain, pregnancy complications and infertility may also arise.


The signs and symptoms of chlamydia mimic those of gonorrhoea, thus the two infections are usually parallel tested to determine the specific infection. It is imperative to distinguish between them as they are treated with different antibiotics. Additionally, chlamydia infection increases the likelihood of contracting other diseases, such as Human papillomavirus (HPV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

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About the Author

Stephanie Kuhn is a Chicago-based writer. She serves as a technical specialist in a medical laboratory, participating in safety/quality improvement, writing materials for staff training and procedures, as well as coordinating training and overseeing testing processes. Kuhn holds a Master of Business Administration.