Objective: To determine whether screening and treating women for chlamydial infection reduces the incidence of pelvic inflammatory disease over the subsequent 12 months. Design: Randomised controlled trial. Setting: Common rooms, lecture theatres, and student bars at universities and further education colleges in London. Participants: 2529 sexually active female students, mean age 21 years (range 16-27). Intervention: Participants completed a questionnaire and provided self taken vaginal swabs, with follow-up after one year. Samples were randomly allocated to immediate testing and treatment for chlamydial infection, or storage and analysis after a year (deferred screening controls). Main outcome measure: Incidence of clinical pelvic inflammatory disease over 12 months. Results: Baseline prevalence of chlamydia was 5.4% (68/1254) in screened women and 5.9% (75/1265) in controls. 94% (2377/2529) of women were followed up after 12 months. The incidence of pelvic inflammatory disease was 1.3% (15/1191) in screened women compared with 1.9% (23/1186) in controls (relative risk 0.65, 95% confidence interval 0.34 to 1.22). Seven of 74 control women (9.5%, 95% confidence interval 4.7% to 18.3%) who tested positive for chlamydial infection at baseline developed pelvic inflammatory disease over 12 months compared with one of 63 (1.6%) screened women (relative risk 0.17, 0.03 to 1.01). However, most episodes of pelvic inflammatory disease occurred in women who tested negative for chlamydia at baseline (79%, 30/38). 22% (527/2377) of women reported being tested independently for chlamydia during the trial. Conclusion: Although some evidence suggests that screening for chlamydia reduces rates of pelvic inflammatory disease, especially in women with chlamydial infection at baseline, the effectiveness of a single chlamydia test in preventing pelvic inflammatory disease over 12 months may have been overestimated. Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00115388.