Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
It affects both men and women of all age groups, although it is most prevalent among young women. Chlamydia isn’t difficult to treat once as long as the diagnosis is made, as it tends to go unnoticed in a large proportion of patients.
Despite the fact that symptoms generally occur within 5 to 20 days from the time of the infection from chlamydia, many people – approximately 75% of women and 50% of men – remain asymptomatic, resulting in the disease evolving undisturbed, threatening them even with infertility.
During the first days, the infections from chlamydia often cause no signs and symptoms. The first symptoms usually occur one to three weeks after exposure of the organism to the bacteria. Even at this point, though, symptoms are often so mild and passing, making them easy to overlook.
The main symptoms are:
- pain during urination
- lower abdominal pain
- vaginal discharge in women
- discharge from the penis in men
- pain during sexual intercourse in women
- testicular pain in men
When to see our Doctor
You should arrange an appointment in our practice if you see a discharge from your vagina or penis urethra or if you have pain during urination. In addition to this, you should visit your doctor if your sexual partner reveals that he or she has chlamydia, as it may be necessary for you to take antibiotic medication even if you have no symptoms.
Causes and risk factors
Chlamydia is caused by bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatics and is most commonly spread through vaginal, oral and anal sex. Moreover, it is possible for a mother to spread chlamydia to her child during delivery. In this case pneumonia or a serious eye infection may be caused in her newborn.
Factors that may promote the transmission of chlamydia include:
- young age (below 24 years old)
- large number of sex partners
- not using a condom at all or consistently
- history of prior sexually transmitted diseases
If chlamydia is not treated, it may also lead to:
Other sexually transmitted infections. People who have chlamydia are at higher risk of also having other STIs — including gonorrhoea and HIV (the virus that causes AIDS).
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This is an infection that affects the uterus and fallopian tubes causing pelvic pain and fever. Severe infections may require hospitalization for intravenous antibiotics. PID can damage the fallopian tubes, ovaries and uterus, including the cervix.
Infection near the testicles. Chlamydia may cause inflammation of the epididymis, the long coiled tube located beside each testicle.
Prostate gland infection. The chlamydia organism can spread to a man’s prostate gland. Prostatitis may result in pain during or after sex, fever and chills, painful urination, and lower abdomen pain.
Infections in newborns. The bacteria may be passed from the vaginal canal to your child during delivery, causing pneumonia or a serious eye infection.
Infertility. Chlamydia infections — even those that produce no signs or symptoms — can cause scarring and obstruction in the fallopian tubes, which may make women infertile.
Reactive arthritis. People who have chlamydia are at higher risk of developing reactive arthritis, also known as Reiter’s syndrome. This condition typically affects the joints, eyes and urethra.
Preparation for your appointment
Α. At your appointment with our doctor you should be prepared to answer the following questions:
- When did your symptoms begin?
- Does anything make them better or worse?
- What medications and supplements do you take regularly?
- Do you have a new sexual partner?
- Do you use condom
- Have you felt pain in the lower abdomen?
- Do you feel pain during urination?
- Have you noticed unusual discharge from your genitals?
Β. Questions you may want to ask your doctor:
- Which examinations should I go through?
- Should I be tested for other sexually transmitted infections?
- Should my partner be tested or treated for chlamydia?
- How long should I abstain from sexual activity?
- What can I do in terms of prevention in the future?
Tests and Diagnosis
Since the infection from chlamydia often presents with no symptoms but at the same time it poses a serious health risk, it is advisable to do certain screening tests if you are:
Sexually active women age 25 or younger. The rate of chlamydia infection is highest in this group, so a yearly screening test is recommended. Even if you’ve been tested in the past year, get tested when you have a new sex partner.
Pregnant women. You should be tested for chlamydia during your first prenatal exam. If you have a high risk of infection — from changing sex partners or from your regular partner’s possible infection — get tested again later in your pregnancy.
You belong to the high risk group. Frequent chlamydia screening is necessary if you have multiple sex partners or if you don’t always use a condom during sex. The same applies in case you have medical history of another sexually transmitted disease.
Screening and diagnosis of chlamydia is possible through a test of a specimen from:
- Swab: For women, the diagnosis of chlamydia is possible through the examination of a culture sample from the discharge of your cervix. This can be done during a routine Pap test. For men, the sample is collected through the urethra. In some cases, the doctor may receive a sample from the anus.
- Urine test: In certain cases, it is possible to diagnose chlamydia through a urine test
Treatments and medications
Treatment is based on antibiotic medications (of the family of macrolides and tetracyclines), which may be administered as one dose or during a multiple-day dosing regimen. In most cases, the infection resolves within one to two weeks. During that time, you should abstain from sex. It is also essential that your sexual partner or partners also receive treatment even if they have no signs or symptoms. Otherwise, the infection can be passed back and forth between sexual partners. It is also worth noting that having chlamydia in the past and having been treated for it provides no immunity against reinfection in the future.
The transmission of chlamydia can be prevented if:
- Abstain from sexual activities or have only one sexual partner: Abstinence is definitely the safest method to prevent chlamydia. The next safer method is having a sexual relationship in which both partners are monogamous.
- Use of latex condom during each sexual contact: Condoms used properly during every sexual encounter reduce but don’t eliminate the risk of infection.
- Get regular screenings: If you’re sexually active, particularly if you have multiple partners, talk with your doctor about how often you should be screened for chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases.
- Avoid frequent douching: In women douches can decrease the number of good bacteria present in the vagina, which may increase the risk of infections.