Chlamydia

Infection, Men's Health, Women's Health and Childbirth

Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that is transmitted during sex and affects the reproductive organs, throat, and eyes. Classified as a sexually transmitted disease (STD), chlamydia is spread between sexual partners through unprotected anal, oral, or vaginal sex. Anyone who has sex is at risk of getting chlamydia, but young sexually active people are at a higher risk due to factors of behavior and biology. Women who have a chlamydia infection left untreated may develop pelvic inflammatory disease, tubal factor infertility, and chronic pelvic pain. Chlamydia can be passed from mother to baby during birth with the baby at risk for eye infections and pneumonia. Around 2 million people each year contract the disease within the United States alone. This infection is most prevalent in young adults age under 25 years of age.

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Symptoms

There are often no symptoms of chlamydia and this can lead to serious complications if left untreated. When there are symptoms, they usually appear between 1 to 3 weeks after sexual contact with an infected person.

Symptoms include:

  • Vaginal or penile discharge
  • Lower abdominal and/or pelvic pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Burning with urination
  • Testicular pain
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Bleeding or discharge from the rectum (after anal sex)
  • Sore throat, fever, and cough (after oral sex)

Risk Factors

The biggest risk factor for contracting chlamydia is being sexually active before the age of 25. Women who have a condition called cervical ectopy are susceptible to this infection. Cervical ectopy occurs when the cells of the cervical canal (endocervix) are found outside the cervical canal (ectocervix). Women between the ages of 15-24 are twice as susceptible to getting the infection than those without the condition. Other risk factors include:

  • Incorrect or inconsistent use of condoms (latex)
  • Past medical history of other STIs/STDs
  • Drug and alcohol use (increase risky behavior)
  • Unprotected sexual intercourse
  • Being HIV positive

Diagnosis

Chlamydia is diagnosed by swabbing the discharge from the vagina, eyes, or penis. Alternatively, a urine test can be done.

If you have the symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible for testing. If you do not have symptoms, it is recommended that sexually active men and women have the test yearly.

All women need to be tested at the beginning of pregnancy.

Treatments

Treatment for chlamydia involves taking antibiotics, abstaining from sex during treatment, and treating any partners to prevent reinfection. Antibiotic therapy can either be given in a large single dose or lower doses over 7 days.

Chlamydia needs to be treated right away. Waiting to get treatment can cause damage to the reproductive organs. Antibiotics can cure chlamydia but will not take care of any permanent damage to the reproductive organs.

Prevention

Chlamydia can be prevented by practicing safe sex. Use these tips to help prevent this infection from occurring:

  • If you have a new partner, talk about their sexual behavior before engaging in intercourse. Ask if they used condoms frequently and had multiple partners. They may have a sexually transmitted disease and not even know.
  • Use caution if you sleep with multiple partners. Be aware of their history and don’t be afraid to ask questions or say no to sex if you are unsure.
  • Do not have sex with someone who has symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease.
  • Always use a condom if you are not in a monogamous relationship. Men should always put a condom on before any sexual act including oral sex. Females should insist on condom use even if they are using birth control pills.

Lifestyle Changes

If you have been diagnosed with chlamydia, you may need to make the following lifestyle changes:

  • Refrain from sexual intercourse until properly treated
  • Use a condom to prevent further infections

References

BASHH. (2016, December). Chlamydia: Looking after your sexual health. Retrieved from British Association of Sexual Health and HIV: https://www.fpa.org.uk/sites/default/files/chlamydia-information-and-advice.pdf

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, October 04). Chlamydia: Detailed fact sheet. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stdfact-chlamydia-detailed.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, July 28). Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance: 2018. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.: https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats18/default.htm

Lee, V., Tobin, J. M., Foley, E. (2006). Relationship of cervical ectopy to chlamydia infection in young women. Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care, 32(2). Retrieved from:https://srh.bmj.com/content/familyplanning/32/2/104.full.pdf

Mayo Clinic.(2020, February 20). Chlamydia trachomatis. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chlamydia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355349#:~:text=Factors%20that%20increase%20your%20risk%20of%20Chlamydia%20trachomatis,Severe%20infections%20might%20require%20hospitalization%20for%20intravenous%20antibiotics.

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