Chlamydia is one of the most common STDs (sexually-transmitted diseases). In 2014 alone, there were over 1.4 million cases of chlamydia reported to the CDC, and infections are on the rise. Between 2013 and 2014, the number of reported cases increased 2.8%, and between 1993 and 2011, reported cases jumped from 178 to 453.4 per 100,000 people.
While most people have heard of chlamydia, many don’t understand what exactly this STD is, its causes, symptoms, or how to treat it. Education is the key first step to preventing the spread of this disease.
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What Is Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is an STD caused by bacteria. In its early stages, most people don’t even realize that they have this infection. It can affect both men and women, and while symptoms may not appear at first, they can cause severe complications if left untreated. For women, untreated chlamydia can make it difficult for her to get pregnant or can cause a fatal ectopic pregnancy.
Common Chlamydia Causes
A chlamydia bacterial infection is caused by the Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria. This bacteria is found in the vaginal fluids and semen of those who are infected with the disease, and causes both genital and ocular tract infections in humans.
Signs and Symptoms
As mentioned previously, most people don’t realize that they have chlamydia at first. Symptoms usually do not appear until 1 to 3 weeks after the infection takes hold. In fact, 50% of men and 70% of women will have no obvious signs of chlamydia.
Common symptoms of this disease include:
- Bleeding after sex.
- Pelvic pain.
- Pain during intercourse.
- Heavier periods or bleeding in between periods.
- Painful urination.
- Abnormal vaginal discharge.
- Testicle pain.
- White discharge from the penis.
- Painful urination.
If the infection is present in the eyes, it can cause swelling, pain, discharge and irritation. Throat infections are typically uncommon and have no symptoms.
How Is Chlamydia Transmitted?
Chlamydia is transmitted from one person to another during sexual intercourse through contact with vaginal fluids or semen. The bacteria responsible for this infection can live inside the urethra, the cervix, and the rectum. Sometimes, chlamydia can live in the throat and eyes.
Typically, chlamydia is spread through:
- Unprotected sex of any kind, including anal, vaginal and oral.
- The sharing of sex toys that have not been properly cleaned.
Newborns can also contract this disease from their mother if she was infected during birth. Although rare, it is possible to get a chlamydia infection in the eye if the eye comes in contact with vaginal fluid or semen.
Chlamydia cannot be passed through hugging, kissing, sharing cups, toilet seats or swimming pools.
What Puts You At Risk for this STD?
Although both men and women can become infected with chlamydia, women are more likely to be diagnosed.
You’re also a greater risk to contract an STD if you have had sex with multiple partners. Infection rates for this disease are highest among women who are young simply because their cervical cells are immature and still vulnerable to infection. With that said, older women are not immune to this disease.
If you’ve had an STD in the past, you may also be a greater risk or if you’re currently suffering from an infection. Men and women who are raped are also a greater risk for contracting chlamydia.
For some women, the infection spreads to the fallopian tubes, which causes PID (pelvic inflammatory disease). PID can cause severe pelvic pain, fever, abnormal bleeding between periods, and nausea. This is a serious condition, and needs to be treated by a medical professional immediately.
How is Chlamydia Diagnosed?
If you think you have chlamydia or are experiencing any of the symptoms above, your doctor can perform tests to determine if you have this infection.
For women, the test is typically very simple. A cotton swab will be used to collect sample cells from the cervix or inside the vagina.
Men are typically asked to provide a urine sample, although women may be asked to provide one as well.
A nurse or doctor may also use a swap to collect a sample from the entrance of the urethra. If you had anal or oral sex, cells may be collected from your throat and rectum.
The tests used to diagnose chlamydia are more than 90% accurate. It’s important to note that no test is 100% accurate, and there is a chance that a negative test result may be given when you actually are infected. For this reason, you may need to be tested a few times, although this is uncommon.
How to Treat Chlamydia
It’s natural to be fearful if you’ve been diagnosed chlamydia, but the good news is that this infection is easy to treat. Since bacteria is the root cause of this STD, it’s easily treated with antibiotics.
Oral chlamydia treatments include azithromycin, which is typically prescribed in a single dose, although your doctor may spread the treatment out into smaller doses over five days. Doxycycline may also be prescribed, and will need to be taken twice a day for one week.
Your doctor may choose to prescribe a different antibiotic. Regardless of which when you’re prescribed, it’s important to follow the dosage instructions to ensure that the infection is cleared. It can take as long as two weeks to eliminate the infection. It’s important to refrain from sex during the treatment.
It is possible to contract chlamydia again if you are exposed to the disease, even if you’ve already had it and were treated in the past.
What happens if you don’t treat Chlamydia? What possible complications can arise even if you do seek out treatment?
If you see your doctor as soon as you suspect that you have contracted chlamydia, it’s very unlikely that you’ll experience any complications, and the infection should clear up without any lasting issues. However, you can experience serious medical issues if you fail to treat this infection in a timely manner.
Women can develop pelvic inflammatory disease, which is an infection that can damage the cervix, uterus and ovaries. This is a painful disease that requires treatment at the hospital. It’s also possible for women to become infertile if the infection is left untreated. This is because the fallopian tubes are at risk for becoming scarred, which can disrupt ovulation.
If a woman is pregnant, she can also pass the infection to her child during birth, which can lead to pneumonia and infections in newborn babies.
Women aren’t the only ones who can experience complications. The epididymis, the special tube that keeps the testicles in place, can become inflamed and cause severe pain. It’s also possible for the infection to spread to the prostate gland, which can cause painful sex, fever and discomfort in the lower spine.
Although the complications can be serious, it’s important to remember that most people who seek out treatment quickly do not experience any long-term medical issues. If you suspect that you may have chlamydia or have experienced symptoms listed above, see your doctor right away. If you’ve been having unprotected sex with multiple partners or were sexually assaulted, it’s also important to get tested to ensure that you don’t have this infection. Remember, symptoms don’t usually appear until 2 to 3 weeks after you’ve already been infected, so don’t wait until you notice symptoms to get tested.