Conversations about sexually transmitted diseases can be tough. But those conversations are important, especially because you could have an STD without even knowing it. Knowing the facts about STDs and how to respond will help you stay healthy and avoid more serious health complications.
One of the conversations you should definitely have is about chlamydia. Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the United States and is caused by bacteria called chlamydia trachomatis. Many people have no symptoms even when infected, which makes it easy for this bacterial sexually transmitted infection to be given or received without either partner being aware. And it can be difficult to trace since symptoms that do show up can do so weeks after having sex with an infected partner.
Chlamydia can be contracted from oral, anal, or vaginal sex, even if you are in a committed relationship. Do not avoid healthcare because of a sense of embarrassment or fear. Even without noticeable symptoms, chlamydia may be doing permanent damage to your reproductive system. But chlamydia can be cured with antibiotics, so don’t wait. Early diagnosis and care are simple and vital to your health.
What is Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is a common STD that infects both males and females. The bacteria that causes the chlamydia infection is contracted through sexual contact and can infect the cervix, rectum, urethra, and throat. As the name sexually transmitted disease implies, the infection is spread through sexual contact. You cannot get chlamydia through casual contact like sharing drinks, coughing, sneezing, hugging, or sitting on the toilet.
The hidden danger of chlamydia is that even when no symptoms are present, it can be causing permanent damage to the reproductive system. This is especially true for women who can develop Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) when the infection spreads to various parts of the reproductive system such as the uterus and fallopian tubes. The damage from the spread of bacteria results in issues with infertility and a higher risk of pregnancy complications like ectopic pregnancy (when a fertilized egg implants and the fetus develops outside the uterus).
If you are able to get pregnant, untreated chlamydia can be spread to your baby during childbirth. The bacteria can cause an eye infection, blindness, or pneumonia in newborns. Damage caused by chlamydia can also cause premature delivery, putting newborns at risk for numerous complications at birth as well as developmental issues as they grow.
What are the Symptoms of Chlamydia?
Damage done by a chlamydia infection is often not noticed right away, despite the fact that it can lead to major health problems including difficulty getting pregnant. Chlamydia can be present without symptoms, but if symptoms do appear, they often include vaginal discharge in women and an abnormal discharge from the penis in men. Sometimes the discharge will also have an odor. Both men and women may experience painful urination, or a burning sensation when urinating. Women may also have bleeding between periods, pain during their periods, as well as pain during sex. General pelvic pain and abdominal pain in women can also be caused by chlamydia.
While men rarely show symptoms of chlamydia, pain and fever can occur if the infection spreads. They may also experience pain or swelling in the testicles. Chlamydia infection can spread to the tube carrying sperm to the testicles (epididymitis), the urethra where urine passes (nongonococcal urethritis), or the rectum (proctitis). In some cases, Chlamydia makes it impossible for a man to have children.
The rectum can also become infected when having anal sex, or through the spread of infection from another area such as the vagina. Infection in the rectum may also show no symptoms or may include bleeding, discharge, and pain in the rectal area.
So what should you do to prevent permanent damage from this STD? You can completely avoid chlamydia infection by not being sexually active. You can lower your risk of infection by having only one sexual partner, and ensuring you and your partner have been tested for STDs. You can also lower your risk through the correct use of condoms every time you have sex. The good news is that chlamydia can be cured by medication, so regular screenings by your healthcare provider should be a priority.
How is Chlamydia Diagnosed and Treated?
Ready for some good news? Chlamydia is easily diagnosed and treated! First, a simple lab test will be used to confirm infection. The testing typically involves either a urine sample or a swab of the infected area.
Once diagnosed, chlamydia can be cured using medication, most commonly antibiotics. Repeat infection is common, so it is important to take all the medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor and get tested again in about three months. Testing should be done even if both you and your sex partner were treated. Following the prescribed timing during treatment is also important so the medication has time to completely rid your body of infection. You should not have sex until your treatment for chlamydia is complete in you and your partner. This is typically seven days after a single-dose medication, or after the completion of a seven-day course of medication. Be sure to follow all instructions and take all medication exactly as prescribed by your healthcare provider. Only rare severe cases may require hospitalization and antibiotics given through an IV.
Remember, medication cures the disease, but it does not prevent re-infection, and it does not repair damage that is already done. Regular screening, as well as prompt treatment, is important in order to avoid additional infection and permanent damage.
Need yet another reason to get checked out? Both men and women with untreated chlamydia have a higher risk of contracting HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) and passing it on to their partners.
Who Should be Tested?
If you experience any symptoms of chlamydia or think you may be infected, see your healthcare provider right away. If any past or present sex partners discover they are infected with chlamydia, you should also get tested and treated right away to prevent the spread of infection and any permanent damage to your reproductive system.
In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends regular screening even when symptoms are not present. Chlamydia is most common in women age 15-24 years, so all sexually active women under 25 years old should be tested for chlamydia every year. Older women with increased risk factors should also be tested yearly. Those risk factors include having multiple partners, a new partner, or having a sex partner with an STD. Chlamydia can be spread through same-sex relationships as well. Both men and women who have relationships with only one or both sexes should be tested regularly.
If you discover you have chlamydia, be sure to notify all sexual partners. This can be difficult to do, but they need the information so that they can also take steps to be tested and treated. Prompt treatment by all will prevent the spread of chlamydia to others, and help ensure that you do not become reinfected. Chlamydia is serious. But it is very common and is easily treatable. The most important thing is to get tested and treated as quickly as possible. The doctors and staff at The Woman’s Clinic are committed to providing the women of Mississippi with state-of-the-art, high-quality care in a comfortable, private, and secure setting.