Chlamydia

1 What is chlamydia?

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection usually caused by a bacterium known as Chlamydia trachomatis. It is an infection that can affect both men and women causing serious side effects.

In men, chlamydia usually affects the urethra (the pipe that passes out urine) while in women it affects the cervix and the womb. Chlamydia infections can sometimes cause infection to the lungs, throat, and eyes.

Below are a few key points you should know about chlamydia:

  • Chlamydia can be spread from the mother to the child during birth, causing pneumonia or eye infection
  • Chlamydia is about 3 times more common than gonorrhea and 50 times more common than syphilis
  • Chlamydia is an infection that can be treated by prescription of antibiotics to both sexual partners
  • Chlamydia can occur without any symptoms
  • Chlamydia is an infection that can sometimes cause serious and permanent damage to the reproductive system

2 Symptoms

It is common that symptoms of chlamydia will not appear. For example, no symptoms are experienced in about 7 out of 10 infected women and 5 in 10 infected men.

You may not experience chlamydia symptoms until several weeks or months after coming in contact with chlamydia bacteria.

Symptoms of chlamydia appear differently in women than in men.

Chlamydia symptoms in men

Symptoms of chlamydia that specifically affect men include:

  • Tenderness and swelling of testicles: If your testes are swollen and tender, you need to consult your physician immediately. Having swollen testes is no small issue, as it can cause immense discomfort and could be indicative of several underlying issues, including chlamydia.
  • Burning sensation and pain when urinating: If you experience frequent bouts of burning sensation and/or pain when urinating, you need to get yourself checked out at the earliest convenience. It could be caused by several conditions, including a urinary tract infection, low hydration, or chlamydia.
  • Discharge from the penis (watery milky discharge, pus):  If your penis is discharging pus, this is a serious health condition that needs to be checked out at the very earliest. Chlamydia is also highly communicable, so you need to get yourself tested as soon as possible and if confirmed for chlamydia, take preventive measures in consultation with your physician.
  • Pain and discomfort at the end of the penis: : If you are experiencing pain and discomfort at the end of your penis, you need to get yourself tested to rule out several underlying issues that can cause this to happen.

If chlamydia in men is left untreated, it can lead to swelling of the epididymis and the testicles, negatively affecting fertility. Given this, it is important that you get yourself tested and diagnosed at the earliest so that you can be treated before any permanent damage is done. 

Chlamydia symptoms in women

About 70 % of women will not experience or notice chlamydia symptoms. However, if they are present, they are as listed below:

  • Bleeding after sexual intercourse: If you experience sudden bleeding post-intercourse, it may be time to pay your gynecologist a visit. Chlamydia can cause you to experience bleeding in the affected area, so get yourself tested since it can spread from your cervix to your womb and even infect your fallopian tubes.
  • Abdominal pains (pelvis and stomach): Sudden episodes of abdominal pain could be caused by several reasons, but if it is accompanied by frequent bouts of bleeding from the vagina, then you need to get yourself tested at the earliest for chlamydia.
  • Pain during urination: A burning sensation and pain during urination could be due to several issues, one of which is chlamydia, so it is important to have yourself tested as soon as possible.
  • Heavier periods: If you find yourself bleeding more than usual during periods, you may want to raise the issue with your physician during your next visit, as chlamydia is known to cause this. 
  • Bleeding and pain during sex: Bleeding and pain during sex is an indication that you could be suffering from chlamydia, but also that the infection has spread to other parts of your body from your cervix. 
  • Irregular periods: Irregular periods could happen for a variety of reasons, including STDs, so get yourself tested at the earliest to rule out some of the more serious conditions.
  • Low grade fever: If you continue to experience a low-grade fever despite taking medication to treat it, it could be indicative of something more serious, like chlamydia. 
  • Abmormal vaginal discharge with foul smell: If there is a general, foul-smelling discharge in and around your vagina, you may be suffering from Chlamydia trachomatis, a bacterium. 

Chlamydiasymptoms

If you leave chlamydia untreated, it is likely to spread to the womb and cause serious conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease. This disease is the major cause of infertility and ectopic pregnancies in women.

When to see a doctor

Consult your doctor if you experience any associated symptoms like discharge from vagina or penis or pain while urinating. If you know your partner has chlamydia, visit your doctor and start the recommended treatment for both.

Be sure to get tested for STDs and STIs if you are with a new sexual partner.

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3 How do you get chlamydia?

Chlamydia bacterial infection is caused by Chlamydia trachomatis that can be transmitted through:

  • Genital contact with an infected individual
  • Having unprotected vaginal sex with an infected person
  • Having unprotected oral sex with a chlamydia patient
  • Having unprotected anal sex with a chlamydia patient

Chlamydia can also be transmitted from an infected mother to the child during birth. Sometimes chlamydia may lead to other infant complications such as pneumonia.

Can you get chlamydia from kissing?

No, you cannot get chlamydia through oral kissing; exchange of saliva cannot transmit a bacterial chlamydia infection. However, if both you and your partner have sores and open bleeding in the mouth, there is a minor chance of exchanging blood, which can spread other STIs, but not chlamydia.

As a chlamydia bacterial infection manifests few or no serious symptoms in about 70% of its carriers, a person may pass it to their sexual partner unknowingly.

Chlamydia infection is impossible to be transmitted through:

  • Sharing a workplace or office supplies with an infected person
  • Using the same swimming pool as an infected person
  • Sharing food with an infected person
  • Sharing the same toilet with a chlamydia patient
  • Staying close to an infected person
  • Being exposed to coughs and sneezes of an infected person

Risk factors

Some factors that would increase your chances of contracting chlamydia include:

  • Being infected with another STD: If you are infected with an STD, the chances of you becoming infected with chlamydia go up. Make sure you pay a visit to the doctor and get yourself screened for various conditions.
  • Low socioeconomic status: If you happen to be economically deprived, chances are that you are living in extremely unhealthy and unsanitary conditions. Moreover, you may be living in close proximity with people who are infected with chlamydia, which could lead to you becoming infected as well.
  • Being under 25 years old and of reproductive age: The chances of you acquiring this infection especially increase if you are of a young age, as you are more likely to experiment with sex. Having unprotected sex will eventually cause you to become infected with STDs.
  • Having a sexual partner with chlamydia: Having sexual relations with a chlamydia-infected person will result in you becoming infected as well.
  • Having 2 or more sexual partners: Having multiple sexual partners increases your chances of acquiring STDs, so always practice safe sex and above all, get yourself tested regularly for STDs, including chlamydia.
  • Changing sexual partners: If you happen to change your sexual partners frequently, your risk for STDs and chlamydia goes up.
  • Non-barrier contraception: Not using any contraceptive prevention measures during sex with someone can lead you to picking up STDs.
  • Failure to use protection such as condoms during sexual intercourse: Not using a condom while having sex will leave you open to becoming infected with STDs, including chlamydia. 

4 Making a diagnosis

Diagnosis for chlamydia may require a physical examination by your doctor to help evaluate the presence of physical symptoms such as penis and vaginal discharge.

A swab sample from the cervix, penis, rectum, throat, and urethra could be needed for chlamydia testing.

However, chlamydia screening should take place even if there are no symptoms, as a means of preventive care.

The following people should be tested for chlamydia and STDs:

  • Pregnant women: Screening for chlamydia in pregnant women is needed during the first prenatal examination. For women with more than one sexual partner, another screening for chlamydia is needed a few weeks before delivery.
  • Women 21 years years of age and below: Annual screening is recommended in many countries for women below 21 years old. 
  • Sexually active females and males: Regular screening is recommended anyone who is sexually active.

How do I prepare for testing?

To prepare for chlamydia screening, remember the following:

  • Prepare a list of all symptoms you have
  • Prepare psychologically for the visit, as this will make the test run smoothly
  • Have all medical history ready to give to your doctor
  • Inform your doctor about all possible medications you are taking. This include supplements and vitamins

Your doctor may ask you the following questions:

  • What symptoms do you have?
  • When did your symptoms start?
  • Are there some factors that worsen or improve the symptoms?
  • What tests are you prepared to take?

You may also need to ask your doctor questions such as:

  • Is there a need to test for other STIs?
  • Should my sexual partner be tested for chlamydia infection?
  • How long will chlamydia treatment take?
  • Can I prevent chlamydia?

Tests for women

The best test for chlamydia in women is a vaginal swab. A swab is stick wrapped with small cotton wool at the end which is used to obtain cells and mucus from the vagina for lab testing. A swab is inserted about five centimeters into the vagina and then rotated gently for a few seconds to obtain cells and mucus. 

When having a urine test for chlamydia, you are required to provide a urine sample after having not passed urine for at least 1 hour. You then need to collect the first drops of your urine in a container.

Test for men

The most common test for chlamydia in men is a urine test. In this test, the first drops of urine are collected the same way as in women. A swab can also be inserted through the urethra in your penis to collect cells for lab test.

In case you had an oral or anal sex recently, you should have a throat or rectal swab taken for screening.

The results of chlamydia screening tests are available after 8 to 10 days. If you feel that you have high chances of having chlamydia, you should start the treatment immediately.

If you are confirmed to have chlamydia, you will also be advised to have other STIs tests

5 How to treat chlamydia

Treating chlamydia is very important because if you leave it untreated, it can cause health complications such as ectopic pregnancy and infertility.

Antibiotics recommended when it comes to chlamydia treatment, as they are very effective if the patient follows the doctor’s prescription instructions carefully. In many cases, antibiotics are given as pills which the patient should swallow.

A few weeks after taking the full dose of antibiotics as recommended by the doctor, one should go for a chlamydia test to see if the infection was fully cured.

Antibiotics used to treat chlamydia include:

  • Doxycycline: These drugs are taken for about 1 week. It is important to follow the prescription instructions to make sure the disease does not return.
  • Azithromycin: One dose of this drug is required to treat chlamydia.

Some people, such as pregnant women, should have alternative antibiotics to treat chlamydia. Since some antibiotics such as doxycycline and tetracycline may affect development of the baby’s teeth and bones, the following alternative antibiotics are recommended:

  • Ofloxacin
  • Erythromycin
  • Levofloxacin

Some of the side effects many patients experience after taking antibiotics include:

Is chlamydia curable?

Yes, chlamydia is a bacterial infection that can be completely cured. If you follow your doctor’s prescription of antibiotics strictly, the disease can go away completely.

To completely cure chlamydia you should:

  • Go for regular chlamydia screening even after treatment.
  • Make sure you completely understand your antibiotic treatment and take it exactly as intended.
  • Make sure your partner is tested and treated with you.

What happens if I don’t treat chlamydia?

Untreated chlamydia can lead to very serious complications in both men and women.

Serious infections

Untreated chlamydia may cause serious infection that may affect the fallopian tubes and the uterus. This condition is referred to as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). It has been found that 10 to 40 women out of 100 who have chlamydia develop pelvic inflammatory disease. PID may develop slowly for months before any symptoms show.

Over time, PID may cause damage and scarring to the fallopian tubes that would lead to:

  • Chronic or persistent pelvic pain
  • Difficulty getting pregnant and staying pregnant
  • Sudden fever and high body temperature
  • Increased risk of ectopic pregnancy in case one become pregnant. In this condition, the pregnancy develops in the fallopian tube, causing serious and life threatening problems.

Pregnancy complications

There is a very high risk of developing pregnancy complications such as premature birth, stillbirth, and miscarriage with untreated chlamydia.

Impotence in men

Just like untreated chlamydia can lead to infertility in women of childbearing age, it can also lead to impotence in men.

Infant chlamydia

If a woman has untreated chlamydia during child birth, the baby is likely to develop a chlamydia infection of the lungs and eye immediately after birth.

Prostate gland infection

Chlamydia my spread to a man’s prostate gland, causing prostatitis.

Epididymitis

This condition is characterized by inflammation of the epididymis (a tube found at the back of the testicles that carries sperm). Signs and symptoms of epididymitis include warm, red, and swollen scrotum with tender and painful testicles. This is usually accompanied by pain during urination, painful intercourse, mainly during ejaculation, frequent urination, blood in semen, lump on the testes, swollen inguinal nodes, and abnormal discharge (pus).

Reiter syndrome

This is a chronic inflammatory arthritis that can develop in both women and men with untreated chlamydia.

Patients with Reiter syndrome suffer from:

  • Reactive arthritis
  • Inflammation of the eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Genital inflammation
  • Urinary tract inflammation
  • Gastrointestinal tract inflammation

Both joints and other organs can be affected by Reiter’s syndrome. Serious inflammation can affect the lungs, mouth, heart, skin, eyes, and kidneys.

Urethritis

Untreated chlamydia in men can lead to urethritis, a condition where the urethra becomes inflamed. Symptoms of urethritis include production of abnormal discharge.

6 How to prevent chlamydia

When it comes to chlamydia and other STDs, prevention is the best form of treatment.

Using barrier protection, such as dental dams, during oral sex can help reduce the risk of getting chlamydia. Using a condom during vaginal and anal sex can prevent chlamydia.

If you are going through chlamydia treatment, avoid sexual activity until the treatment is over and until you've been tested after treatment.

If your doctor prescribes you with a dose of antibiotics, it is important to avoid sex. 

Be aware and educated about your own health. If you are sexually active, or 21 or older, get tested for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, and other STDs every year.

Avoid sexual contact if you have an active STI or are being treated for an STI, and avoid sexual intercourse with partners if they are being treated for an STI.

Use condoms to reduce the risk of being infected with an STD and use them with partners until both of you are certain of not having an STD.

Be careful and be open when it comes to talking with your partner, as preventing an STD is much easier than treating it after being infected.

7 What does chlamydia look like?

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