What is chlamydia?
Chlamydia is the most commonly reported sexually transmited disease in the US. In 2018, there were an estimated 4 million chlamydia infections, but many chlamydia cases aren’t reported, as many people don’t have symptoms and don’t get tested.
This sexually transmitted disease is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. You can get chlamydia through sex or contact with infected semen or vaginal fluid. These are some of the ways you can get chlamydia:
- You have unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
- Your genitals are in contact with your partner’s genitals.
- You get infected vaginal fluid or semen in your eye.
- You share sex toys that aren’t washed or covered with a new condom with each use.
What are the symptoms of chlamydia?
Many people who have chlamydia don’t have any symptoms. Experts say that only about 10% of men and between 5% to 30% of women with chlamydia show symptoms.
Symptoms of chlamydia in women include:
- Burning feeling when urinating
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
Symptoms of chlamydia in men include:
- Burning feeling when urinating
- Discharge from penis
- Swelling and pain in testicles
Both men and women can also get a chlamydia infection in their rectum. There are usually no symptoms, but symptoms may include:
- Pain in the rectum
How is chlamydia treated?
What happens if chlamydia is untreated?
If you're not treated for chlamydia, you may have some serious complications.
In women, the untreated chlamydia infection may spread to your fallopian tubes or uterus. This may cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
Pelvic inflammatory disease can result in serious health problems:
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Infertility. Pelvic inflammatory disease can cause scar tissue to develop in your fallopian tubes. This can block your tubes and make it difficult for an egg to pass through and become fertilized.
- Ectopic pregnancy. This scarring of your fallopian tubes can stop a fertilized egg from moving into your uterus. The egg may then begin to grow in your fallopian tube. An ectopic pregnancy can be dangerous, as your fallopian tube may break and cause bleeding in your pelvis and abdomen.
A study of women admitted to hospitals found that women with pelvic inflammatory disease were:
- Ten times more likely to be admitted to hospital for abdominal pain
- Ten times more likely to be admitted for ectopic pregnancy
- Six times more likely to be admitted for endometriosis
- Eight times more likely to be admitted for a procedure to remove their womb (hysterectomy)
Some people with pelvic inflammatory disease caused by chlamydia may also develop a rare complication known as Fitz-Hugh-Curtis Syndrome or perihepatitis. This is a painful inflammation of the tissue surrounding your liver.
If you’re pregnant and your chlamydia is untreated, this increases your likelihood of problems like premature birth and a low-birth-weight baby. You may pass chlamydia on to your baby. Your baby may develop a lung infection (pneumonia) or eye infection (conjunctivitis).
Women with chlamydia are also 6.5 times more likely to develop cervical cancer than those who are uninfected. Having chlamydia also increases your risk of HIV infection because your genital tract is inflamed.
For men, chlamydia that’s untreated can cause your testicles and tubes that carry sperm from your testicles to swell and become tender or painful. The pain may be severe and constant. You may also have some discharge. This rare condition is known as epididymitis or epididymo-orchitis.
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How to Reduce Your Risk of Getting Chlamydia
Here are some ways to decrease your risk of getting chlamydia:
- Use condoms when you have sex.
- Get a sexual health check-up at least once a year. This should include tests for HIV, syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhoea. If you often change sexual partners, get more frequent check-ups.
- Three months after you’ve finished treatment for chlamydia, you should get tested to check that you’ve not been re-infected. It’s common to be reinfected with chlamydia.
- Inform your sexual partners about your chlamydia. Anyone you have had sex with in the last 6 months should be tested. If they’re not told or treated, they could infect someone else or reinfect you. Offering this information will help stop the spread of chlamydia in your community.
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The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID).”
Better Health Channel: “Chlamydia.”
BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology: “Morbidity following pelvic inflammatory disease."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Chlamydia – CDC Fact Sheet,” “Chlamydia: Detailed Fact Sheet.”
Medscape: “Chlamydia (Chlamydial Genitourinary Infections) Clinical Presentation.”
Merck Manual: “Epididymitis and Epididymo-orchitis.”
NHS: Chlamydia,” "Complications Chlamydia.”
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