Chlamydia in Women Overview (cont.)

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What causes chlamydia?

Chlamydia is an infection with Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria. When an infection is present, the bacteria can be present in the cervix, urethra, vagina, and rectum of an infected person. It can also live in the throat. Any type of sexual contact with an infected person can spread the infection.

Young people who are sexually active are at high risk for chlamydia. Estimates suggest that 1 out of every 15 sexually active teen women aged 14 to 19 is infected. Infection with chlamydia is also common among men who have sex with men. Overall, an estimated 2.86 million infections occur every year in the U.S.

An infected mother can also spread the infection to her baby at the time of birth as the baby passes through the vaginal canal. The most common complications of chlamydia acquired through the birth canal are eye damage and pneumonia in the newborn.

Even after a person has been treated for chlamydia, it is possible to get the infection again. With chlamydia, repeat infection is common.

What are the signs and symptoms of chlamydia?

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Most women with chlamydia have no signs or symptoms of the infection, and it has been referred to as a “silent” infection for this reason. However, since the infection can cause permanent damage to the reproductive tract, it is still important to recognize and treat this infection. The most common manifestation of chlamydia infection is infection of the cervix with inflammation (cervicitis) in women.

When symptoms do occur, they are very similar to those caused by gonorrhea. Symptoms, if they do appear, may take up to several weeks after the initial infection to develop. Symptoms of chlamydia infection can include vaginal discharge and abdominal pain. Infection of the urethra can produce the characteristic symptoms of a urinary tract infection, including pain or burning with urination, blood in the urine, feelings of urinary urgency (feeling a continuous need to urinate) and urinating frequently.

If chlamydia infection is not treated, about 30% of cases spread within the pelvic organs, leading to a condition known as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease include pelvic pain, pain with sexual intercourse, fever, cramping, and abdominal pain. Pelvic inflammatory disease can cause scarring and damage to the reproductive organs that may result in infertility.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/17/2013

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