Chlamydia is the agent of a sexually transmitted disease, a type of bacteria found in the cervix, urethra, throat, or rectum that acts very much like gonorrhea in the way it is spread, the symptoms it produces, and its long-term consequences. Chlamydia is destructive to the Fallopian tubes, causing infertility, tubal pregnancy, and severe pelvic infection. It is common for infected women to have no symptoms.
Chlamydia is associated with an increased incidence of preterm births. Also, an infant can acquire the disease during passage through the birth canal, leading to eye problems or pneumonia. Chlamydia is one of the reasons newborns are routinely treated with antibiotic eyedrops. Chlamydia can also cause inflammation of the urethra, epididymis, and rectum in men. A chronic form of arthritis, called reactive arthritis, can develop after chlamydia infection.
Chlamydia is an infection caused by a kind of bacteria that is passed during sexual contact. It is the most common sexually transmitted bacterial infection in the United States. About three million American women and men become infected with chlamydia every year. It is especially common among women and men under 25.
Chlamydia is more than three times as common as gonorrhea and more than 50 times as common as syphilis.
Chlamydia can infect the penis, vagina, cervix, anus, urethra, eye, or throat.
Chlamydia Symptoms and Signs
Chlamydia symptoms usually appear between 1 and 3 weeks after exposure but may not emerge until much later. Chlamydia is known as the ‘silent’ disease as in many people it produces no symptoms. It is estimated that 70-75% of women infected with chlamydia are asymptomatic (have no symptoms) and a significant proportion of men also have no symptoms.
Those who do have symptoms of chlamydia may experience:
- An increase in vaginal discharge caused by an inflamed cervix
- the need to urinate more frequently, or pain whilst passing urine
- pain during sexual intercourse or bleeding after sex
- lower abdominal pains
- irregular menstrual bleeding
- A white/cloudy and watery discharge from the penis that may stain underwear;
- a burning sensation and/or pain when passing urine;
- pain and swelling in the testicles.
- Men are more likely to notice chlamydia symptoms than women, though they too may be asymptomatic.
A health care provider can do tests to see if you have chlamydia, whether or not you have chlamydia symptoms. Your health care provider may be able to see chlamydia symptoms, such as a discharge from the cervix. Otherwise, the provider may use a swab or other instrument to take cell samples from the penis, cervix, urethra, or anus. You can also have your urine tested.
People under 25 years old can also get tested by the National Chlamydia Screening Programme (NCSP). This is often in places such as pharmacies, contraception clinics or colleges.
You can also buy chlamydia testing kits to do at home, however, the accuracy of these tests varies. If you use one of these tests, talk to your pharmacist or GP.
Treatments for Chlamydia
Chlamydia is easy to treat. If you have chlamydia, you will need to take antibiotics. One type of chlamydia treatment is taken in one dose. Other kinds of chlamydia treatment must be taken for seven days. Your health care provider can help you decide which is the best treatment for you.
Both you and your partner must be treated for chlamydia before you have sex again. That way you can avoid becoming infected again. Some health care providers will give you antibiotics to take home to your partner. They may tell you to be re-tested for chlamydia in 3 to 4 months.
If you are treated for chlamydia, or any other sexually transmitted disease or infection, remember:
- Take all of the prescribed medicine. Even if the symptoms go away, the infection may still be in your body until the chlamydia treatment is complete.
- Make sure your partner is treated before having sex again so you don’t infect each other.
- Do not share your medicine with anyone.
- Get tested again after three months to make sure the infection is gone
What Happens If I Don’t Get My Chalmydia Treated?
If you do not get treated for chlamydia, you run the risk of several health problems.
- For women. If left untreated, chlamydia infection can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to damage of the fallopian tubes (the tubes connecting the ovaries to the uterus) or even cause infertility (the inability to have children). Untreated chlamydia infection could also increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy (when the fertilized egg implants and develops outside the uterus.) Furthermore, chlamydia may cause premature births (giving birth too early) and the infection can be passed along from the mother to her child during childbirth, causing an eye infection, blindness, or pneumonia in the newborn.
- For men. Chlamydia can cause a condition called nongonococcal urethritis (NGU), an infection of the urethra (the tube by which men and women pass urine), epididymitis, an infection of the epididymis (the tube that carries sperm away from the testes), or proctitis — an inflammation of the rectum.
Chlamydia infections in women may lead to inflammation of the cervix. In men, chlamydia infection can lead to inflammation of the urethra called urethritis.
An untreated chlamydia infection may spread to the uterus or the fallopian tubes, causing salpingitis or pelvic inflammatory disease. These conditions can lead to infertility and increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy.
If a women is infected with chlamydia while pregnant, the infection may cause infection in the uterus after delivery (late postpartum endometritis). In addition, the infant may develop chlamydia-related conjunctivitis (eye infection) and pneumonia.
There is a lot you can do to prevent getting chlamydia.
- Abstain from vaginal and anal intercourse and oral sex.
- If you choose to have vaginal or anal intercourse, use female or latex condoms every time.
- Giving or getting chlamydia during oral sex is rare, but you can further reduce your risk by using condoms or latex or plastic barriers.
Early antibiotic treatment is extremely successful and may prevent the development of long-term complications. Untreated infection, however, may lead to complications.