Health

Chlamydia symptoms, causes and treatment

What is chlamydia?

Chlamydia is a common STD that can infect both men and women. It can cause serious, permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system. This can make it difficult or impossible for her to get pregnant later on. Chlamydia can also cause a potentially fatal ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy that occurs outside the womb).

C.trachomatis can be called as the commonest STI in the UK, which can be seen in about 10% of sexually active people below 25 years. It is mainly transmitted via direct inoculation of infected secretions from a mucous membrane to another. The infection can be usually seen in the areas of urethra, endocervix, rectum, pharynx, and conjunctiva. This condition is asymptomatic most of the time. Therefore, it is frequently unrecognized and untreated. The main complication of chlamydia infection is the pelvic inflammatory disease. This may result in tubal infertility, ectopic pregnancy and chronic pelvic pain resulting in significant morbidity and increased cost of health care services. Although the exact incubation period of the disease is unclear, it is thought to be between 7 and 21 days.

What are the symptoms of chlamydia?

Chlamydia doesn’t usually cause any symptoms. So you may not realize that you have it. People with chlamydia who have no symptoms can still pass the disease to others. If you do have symptoms, they may not appear until several weeks after you have sex with an infected partner.

Symptoms in women include

  • Abnormal vaginal discharge, which may have a strong smell
  • A burning sensation when urinating
  • Pain during intercourse

If the infection spreads, you might get lower abdominal pain, pain during sex, nausea, or fever.

Symptoms in men include

  • Discharge from your penis
  • A burning sensation when urinating
  • Burning or itching around the opening of your penis
  • Pain and swelling in one or both testicles (although this is less common)

If the chlamydia infects the rectum (in men or women), it can cause rectal pain, discharge, and/or bleeding.

How do you get chlamydia?

You can get chlamydia during oral, vaginal, or anal sex with someone who has the infection. A woman can also pass chlamydia to her baby during childbirth.

If you’ve had chlamydia and were treated in the past, you can get re-infected if you have unprotected sex with someone who has it.

Who is at risk of getting chlamydia?

Chlamydia is more common in young people, especially young women. You are more likely to get it if you don’t consistently use a condom, or if you have multiple partners.

How is chlamydia spread?

You can get chlamydia by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has chlamydia.

If your sex partner is male you can still get chlamydia even if he does not ejaculate (cum).

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 chlamydia.

If you are pregnant, you can give chlamydia to your baby during childbirth.

How can I reduce my risk of getting chlamydia?

The only way to avoid STDs is to not have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

If you are sexually active, you can do the following things to lower your chances of getting chlamydia:

  • Be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and has negative STD test results;
  • Use latex condoms the right way every time you have sex.

Am I at risk for chlamydia?

Anyone who has sex can get chlamydia through unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex. However, sexually active young people are at a higher risk of getting chlamydia. This is due to behaviors and biological factors common among young people. Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men are also at risk since chlamydia can spread through oral and anal sex.

Have an honest and open talk with your health care provider. Ask whether you should be tested for chlamydia or other STDs. If you are a sexually active woman younger than 25 years, you should get a test for chlamydia every year. If you are an older woman with risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners, or a sex partner who has an STD, you should get a test for chlamydia every year. Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men; as well as pregnant women should also get tested for chlamydia.

Who should be tested for chlamydia?

You should go to your health provider for a test if you have symptoms of chlamydia, or if you have a partner who has a sexually transmitted disease. Pregnant women should get a test when they go to their first prenatal visit.

People at higher risk should get checked for chlamydia every year:

  • Sexually active women 25 and younger
  • Older women who have new or multiple sex partners, or a sex partner who has a sexually transmitted disease
  • Men who have sex with men (MSM)

What are the complications of chlamydia?

In women, an untreated infection can spread to your uterus and fallopian tubes, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can cause permanent damage to your reproductive system. This can lead to long-term pelvic pain, infertility, and ectopic pregnancy. Women who have had chlamydia infections more than once are at higher risk of serious reproductive health complications.

Men often don’t have health problems from chlamydia. Sometimes it can infect the epididymis (the tube that carries sperm). This can cause pain, fever, and, rarely, infertility.

Both men and women can develop reactive arthritis because of a chlamydia infection. Reactive arthritis is a type of arthritis that happens as a “reaction” to an infection in the body.

Babies born to infected mothers can get eye infections and pneumonia from chlamydia. It may also make it more likely for your baby to be born too early.

Untreated chlamydia may also increase your chances of getting or giving HIV/AIDS.

 

I’m pregnant. How does chlamydia affect my baby?

If you are pregnant and have chlamydia, you can pass the infection to your baby during delivery. This could cause an eye infection or pneumonia in your newborn. Having chlamydia may also make it more likely to deliver your baby too early.

If you are pregnant, you should get tested for chlamydia at your first prenatal visit. Testing and treatment are the best ways to prevent health problems.

How do I know if I have chlamydia?

Most people who have chlamydia have no symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they may not appear until several weeks after you have sex with an infected partner. Even when chlamydia causes no symptoms, it can damage your reproductive system.

Women with symptoms may notice

  • An abnormal vaginal discharge;
  • A burning sensation when urinating.

Symptoms in men can include

  • A discharge from their penis;
  • A burning sensation when urinating;
  • Pain and swelling in one or both testicles (although this is less common).

Men and women can also get infected with chlamydia in their rectum. This happens either by having receptive anal sex, or by spread from another infected site (such as the vagina). While these infections often cause no symptoms, they can cause

  • Rectal pain;
  • Discharge;
  • Bleeding.

You should be examined by your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms or if your partner has an STD or symptoms of an STD. STD symptoms can include an unusual sore, a smelly discharge, burning when urinating, or bleeding between periods.

 

How will my doctor know if I have chlamydia?

Laboratory tests can diagnose chlamydia. Your health care provider may ask you to provide a urine sample or may use (or ask you to use) a cotton swab to get a sample from your vagina to test for chlamydia.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing chlamydia may include a physical exam to look for the presence of physical symptoms such as discharge, and will also include either a swab sample from the penis, cervix, urethra, throat, or rectum, or a urine sample.

Chlamydia screening

As chlamydial infection frequently presents no symptoms, health authorities in most nations recommend screening for some people. The CDC recommend chlamydia screening for:

  • women under 25 years of age
  • pregnant women
  • high-risk males and females

How is chlamydia screening done?

Women can go through the procedure at home or in the lab, either with a urine sample or by taking a swab from the lower vagina. The swab is placed in a container and sent to a laboratory.

For men, a urine test is most commonly used.

Consult a doctor about the best way to test for each person’s situation. Some people may have rectal or throat testing, especially people who have HIV.

Can chlamydia be cured?

Yes, chlamydia can be cured with the right treatment. It is important that you take all of the medication your doctor prescribes to cure your infection. When taken properly it will stop the infection and could decrease your chances of having complications later on. You should not share medication for chlamydia with anyone.

Repeat infection with chlamydia is common. You should be tested again about three months after you are treated, even if your sex partner(s) was treated.

Treatment

Treatment of chlamydia is very important because, if left untreated, it can cause long-term health consequences, including infertility and ectopic pregnancy.

Antibiotics are effective in treating chlamydia if the patient follows the doctor’s instructions. In most cases, they will be in pill form. Repeat testing 3 to 4 months after treatment may be recommended, depending on risk factors.

Treatments for chlamydia may include:

  • Azithromycin: The patient receives just one dose.
  • Doxycycline: The patient usually takes the pills for 1 week. It is important that the course is completed to ensure the infection does not return.

Some patients, such as pregnant women, may be given alternative antibiotics. Doxycycline or tetracycline may affect the development of the baby’s bones and teeth. Azithromycin has been shown to be safe and effective.

The following antibiotics are alternatives recommended by the CDC:

  • erythromycin
  • levofloxacin
  • ofloxacin

Some people might experience side effects after taking antibiotics, including:

  • diarrhea
  • stomach pain
  • gastrointestinal issues
  • nausea

Antibiotics will cure the infection. You may get a one-time dose of the antibiotics, or you may need to take medicine every day for 7 days. Antibiotics cannot repair any permanent damage that the disease has caused.

To prevent spreading the disease to your partner, you should not have sex until the infection has cleared up. If you got a one-time dose of antibiotics, you should wait 7 days after taking the medicine to have sex again. If you have to take medicine every day for 7 days, you should not have sex again until you have finished taking all of the doses of your medicine.

It is common to get a repeat infection, so you should get tested again about three months after treatment.

Can I prevent chlamydia?

The only sure way to prevent chlamydia is to not have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

Correct usage of latex condoms greatly reduces, but does not eliminate, the risk of catching or spreading chlamydia.

I was treated for chlamydia. When can I have sex again?

You should not have sex again until you and your sex partner(s) have completed treatment. If your doctor prescribes a single dose of medication, you should wait seven days after taking the medicine before having sex. If your doctor prescribes a medicine for you to take for seven days, you should wait until you have taken all of the doses before having sex.

 

What happens if I don’t get treated?

The initial damage that chlamydia causes often goes unnoticed. However, chlamydia can lead to serious health problems.

If you are a woman, untreated chlamydia can spread to your uterus and fallopian tubes (tubes that carry fertilized eggs from the ovaries to the uterus). This can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID often has no symptoms, however some women may have abdominal and pelvic pain. Even if it doesn’t cause symptoms initially, PID can cause permanent damage to your reproductive system. PID can lead to long-term pelvic pain, inability to get pregnant, and potentially deadly ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus).

Men rarely have health problems linked to chlamydia. Infection sometimes spreads to the tube that carries sperm from the testicles, causing pain and fever. Rarely, chlamydia can prevent a man from being able to have children.

 

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Dr. Francis Matthews

Dr. Francis Matthews

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