Chlamydia

Chlamydia, which is caused by bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis, is the most common STD (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) in the United States. The reason it is so common is that many people with Chlamydia do not realize they have it and are spreading it to potential sexual partners. This is why Chlamydia is often screened for in both those who exhibit symptoms and those who have no symptoms, but are in high risk groups. Chlamydia and Gonorrhea often occur together.

Although Chlamydia is effectively treated with antibiotics, it can have serious complications if left untreated such as pelvic inflammatory disorder in women. This article is not meant to replace the advice of your healthcare provider, but can provide you with an overview about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment for this disease. Use this information to form your own questions and take them with you when you visit your doctor.

Causes of Chlamydia

Chlamydia is transmitted by having oral, anal, or vaginal sex with a person who already has the disease. The infection is spread through semen and vaginal fluids, but the transmission of the disease is not dependent on ejaculation. While the infection comes from these fluids, it can infect the eyes and throat in addition to the vagina, cervix, penis, urethra, and anus.

Anyone can get Chlamydia, even if they have been diagnosed and treated before. However, since these fluids are required to transmit the bacteria, you cannot get it through casual contact. For example, it is not possible to get Chlamydia from holding hands, hugging, sneezing, sitting on a toilet, or sharing food. It is very unlikely to get Chlamydia from kissing, even kissing someone with the infection in their throat.

Chlamydia is easily spread from one sex partner to the next and affects hundreds of thousands of men and women annually in the United States. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Chlamydia is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. 

The bacteria is passed from one person to another during sexual contact, including oral, anal or vaginal intercourse.Some of the factors that may increase a person’s risk of infection include having more than one sex partner, having a sex partner who also has more than one partner, having a previous Chlamydia diagnosis, or having other sexually transmitted infections.

Symptoms of Chlamydia

It’s possible to have this bacteria without knowing that you have been infected. The symptoms listed below are similar to those listed for Gonorrhea because they are both caused by bacteria, except the type of bacteria is different. 

Symptoms can appear anywhere from 1-14 days following exposure to the bacteria. Men and women experience slightly different symptoms.

Men

About half of afflicted men will not exhibit any symptoms. For those who do, symptoms may include:

  • white, yellow, or green urethral discharge (a sign of the infection)
  • anal discharge, itching, pain, bleeding
  • eye pain, light sensitivity, or eye discharge
  • painful or frequent urination

The following symptoms occur less commonly in men:

  • pain in the testicles or scrotum
  • pain when passing stools
  • itching
  • swollen neck lymph nodes
  • sore throat

Women 

Around two thirds of women with Chlamydia will have no symptoms. When they do they may experience:

  • painful sexual intercourse
  • anal discharge, itching, pain, bleeding
  • yellow or green vaginal discharge
  • vulvar swelling
  • bleeding between periods or heavier periods
  • bleeding after intercourse
  • painful or frequent urination
  • inflamed eye

Less common symptoms in women: 

  • pain with passing bowel movements
  • sore throat
  • abdominal or pelvic pain
  • itching
  • swollen neck lymph nodes
  • sore throat 
  • eye pain, light sensitivity, and eye discharge

Diagnosis of Chlamydia

Your healthcare provider may test you if you have symptoms or as a screening at a wellness exam. Most of the time, urine can be used to test for Chlamydia. If you have had oral and/or anal sex, swabs may be used to collect samples from your throat and/or rectum. In some cases, a swab may be used to collect a sample from a man’s urethra or a woman’s cervix.

There are tests for Chlamydia available online, but this should never replace a visit to your healthcare professional. When it comes to this type of disease, or any type of STD, you are going to need a professional diagnosis and treatment. In women, untreated Chlamydia can spread into the uterus and fallopian tubes, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which may result in scarring of the tubes, greater risk of pregnancy complications and in some cases, even infertility. This is a serious infection that requires immediate treatment.

Complications of Chlamydia

Men with untreated Chlamydia can experience epididymitis, which is a type of inflammation of the penis. Men can also experience swelling of the testicles and in rare cases, this may cause a man to be sterile. 

Chlamydia that is untreated in women can lead to pelvic inflammatory disorder, which is inflammation of the female reproductive organs. Some of the complications of pelvic inflammatory disease include formation of scar tissue that blocks fallopian tubes, ectopic pregnancy (which is when an embryo forms outside the uterus), infertility, and chronic pelvic or abdominal pain. In both sexes Chlamydia can cause eye conjunctivitis which will present with itching and discharge from the eyes. 

Perhaps the most serious complication of untreated Chlamydia, is that having this disease makes you more susceptible to other infections, including infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that leads to AIDS. People who have both Chlamydia and HIV are able to transmit one or both diseases more readily to their partners.

Prevention of Chlamydia

You can take steps to reduce your risk of Chlamydia as well as other sexually transmitted diseases by using a good quality latex condom and using one every time you choose to have sex. Abstaining from sex is the surest way to prevent getting a sexually transmitted disease, but for most people, this is not likely. If and when you choose to have sex, always use a condom during any type of sexual contact, including anal sex, oral sex or vaginal sex.

Never hesitate to ask your partner to be tested for sexually transmitted infections. Find out whether your partner has been tested for sexually transmitted infections, including Chlamydia. If not, ask whether he or she would be willing to be tested. Ideally, this should occur before you have sex with any person.

Don’t have sex with someone who has any unusual symptoms. If your partner has signs or symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection, such as burning during urination or a genital rash or sore, don’t have sex with that person.

If you are sexually active, consider regular Chlamydia screenings. Annual screening is recommended for all sexually active people less than 25 years of age and for older people at increased risk of infection, such as those who have a new sex partner, more than one sex partner, a sex partner with concurrent partners, or a sex partner who has a sexually transmitted infection.

Most healthcare professionals will recommend that patients abstain from unprotected sex for seven days after completing treatment and after resolution of any symptoms.

Treatment of Chlamydia

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea are similar diseases and are both treated with antibiotics. Typically these include Azithromycin 1g po X 1 dose or Doxycycline 100mg po BID x7 days. 

When seeking treatment for this disease, it is important that you take all of the medication prescribed by a healthcare provider to cure your infection. Even if you feel better, or your symptoms go away quickly, take all of the medication as directed. This increases the effectiveness of the treatment. Often times the medical provider will give you an RX for your sex partner also. However, don’t share your own medication with your sex partner. He/she should receive their own medication. 

If your symptoms continue for more than a few days after receiving medical treatment, you’ll need to go back to your doctor and be tested again. You may need another round of antibiotics or a different type of antibiotics to treat the infection. It’s possible to get Chlamydia more than once, and follow-up testing for Chlamydia three months after treatment ends is recommended by most healthcare professionals, even if sex partners are treated.

You should wait seven days after finishing all medication used to treat Chlamydia before having sex. To avoid getting infected again or spreading this disease, you and your sex partner(s) should avoid having sex until you have both completed treatment. If you were treated in the past, you can still get infected again if you have unprotected sex with a person who has 

Chlamydia

.

Even if you do not have any symptoms, you can still infect your sex partners. Using condoms may help lower this risk but it will not get rid of the risk completely. If you have Chlamydia, you should tell your sex partner(s) and let him or her know so they can get tested and treated, if necessary.

If you suspect that you have Chlamydia or any other type of sexually transmitted disease, it is important that you talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible so that you get the correct examination, testing, and treatment.

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