STD Series – Chlamydia

Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria known as chlamydia trachomatis. Young women are more prone in being infected, but it can still affect both men and women in all age groups. Men can get chlamydia in the urethra (inside the penis), throat, or rectum; women can be infected in the cervix, rectum, or throat.  Many people are not aware that they have chlamydia because signs and symptoms do not really show in the early stages. As a matter of fact, an estimated 90% of women and 70% of men with this infection have no symptoms at all. If left untreated, it can cause severe health conditions.

The Causes

Chlamydia infection is transmitted through vaginal, oral, and anal sex, especially if protection is not involved. However, penetration or ejaculation does not have to occur to contract the infection, for example, tribadism – which is the rubbing of genitals together. If you sex partner is male, you can still get chlamydia even if he does not ejaculate. It is also possible for pregnant women to spread chlamydia to their children during childbirth. Chlamydia can cause eye infection (conjunctivitis) that is transmitted through genital or oral contact with the eyes; however, cases like these are not common. If you’ve had chlamydia and were treated in the past, you can still get infected again. This can happen if you have unprotected sex with someone who has the infection.

The Symptoms

Early-stage chlamydia are often asymptomatic, which is the reason why it has earned the title “silent infection.” Signs and symptoms might only emerge until several weeks after you have sex with an infected partner, and even if that happens, symptoms are often mild and can be easily overlooked, which makes it riskier as it can damage the reproductive system and infected individuals can still pass the disease to others.

Chlamydia Symptoms in Women.

A few of the most prevalent symptoms of chlamydia in women are:

In some cases for women, the infection can spread to the fallopian tubes, which will result in a condition known as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) that requires immediate medical attention. The symptoms of PID include:

Women may not experience any signs or symptoms if they have a chlamydia infection in the rectum. If symptoms of a rectal infection do occur, it may include rectal pain, discharge, or bleeding.  Furthermore, women that engage in unprotected oral sex can develop a throat infection – symptoms include cough, fever, and sore throat.

Chlamydia Symptoms in Men.

Symptoms in Men can include:

Symptoms for chlamydia infection in the anus are discharge, pain, and bleeding from this area while symptoms of a throat infection from chlamydia include sore throat, cough, or fever. There is also a possibility of carrying the bacteria in the throat while not being aware of it.

How is chlamydia diagnosed?

Your health-care provider will ask you about the symptoms you may be experiencing. If your symptoms are present, the doctor may perform a physical exam that will allow them to observe any sores, abnormal spots, or discharge that may be related to a possible infection. Your doctor may ask you to provide a urine sample. For women, he or she might use a cotton swab to get a sample from your vagina to test for chlamydia. If there’s a possibility the infection is in the anus or throat, these areas may be swabbed as well. Laboratory tests can determine whether you have chlamydia.

Can chlamydia be cured?

Chlamydia can be cured with proper treatment! It is crucial that you take all of the medication your doctor prescribes to cure the infection. Since chlamydia is bacterial in nature, it can treated with antibiotics. You may get a one-time dose of the antibiotics (azithromycin), or you may need to take it every day for a week (doxycycline). It does not matter what type of antibiotic is prescribed, remember to carefully follow the dosage instructions and finish the medication to ensure the infection fully clears up. However, antibiotics cannot repair any permanent damage that the disease has caused, which is why it is important to not delay in seeking medical help. During the period of your treatment, you are not advised to have sex until the infection has cleared up to prevent spreading the disease to your partner. You should also get tested again about three months after treatment as it is common to get a repeat infection.

What happens if chlamydia is left untreated?

If left untreated, chlamydia can cause severe health conditions. For women, untreated chlamydia can spread to the uterus and fallopian tubes, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This is a medical emergency as it can damage the uterus, cervix, and ovaries. In addition, PID can lead to long-term pelvic pain, infertility, and potentially life-threatening ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus).

Men can also experience complications when the infection is left untreated. One of the risks would be epididymitis – infection near the testicles. This condition causes painful inflammation to the epididymis, which is the tube that holds the testicles in place. The infection can also spread to the prostate gland but it is quite rare. Another possible health issue is male chlamydial urethritis, causing the swelling and inflammation of the urethra, accompanied by penile discharge.

People who have chlamydia, regardless of gender, are at an increased risk of developing reactive arthritis, also known as Reiter’s syndrome. This condition affects the joints, eyes and urethra. This is why it is important to get medical attention right away. People who seek treatment quickly have no long-term medical issues.

What happens if you have chlamydia while you’re pregnant?

If you’re pregnant and have chlamydia, there is a high risk of passing the infection to your baby during childbirth. On top of that, newborn babies can acquire pneumonia or a severe eye infection. It is also likely to have a premature delivery.

If you are pregnant, you should get for chlamydia or any other STDs at your first prenatal visit, to prevent any unwanted health problems for you and your unborn baby.  

What can I do to reduce my risk of getting chlamydia?

If you are sexually active, always use a condom during each sexual contact to avoid contracting chlamydia. Limit the number of sex partners as having multiple sex partners puts you at a high risk of contracting chlamydia and other STDs. It is strongly advised to get regular STD screenings!

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