What is Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is a common bacterial infection. It is one of the most reported sexually transmitted diseases in the United States of America. The Center for Disease Control estimates that about 75% of women and 50% of men in the US have chlamydia. Unfortunately, this infection usually doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms when someone contracts it. According to the CDC, about 40% to 95% of people with chlamydia show no signs. As a result, many people can live with chlamydia without knowing and getting treated. Left untreated, the long term effects of chlamydia can be severe reproductive health complications.
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Chlamydia spreads through sexual contact with someone that is already infected. There are about 50 million reported cases worldwide and an estimated three million patients every year in the US. The CDC fact sheet recommends regular screening for sexually active young people who are more likely to be infected.
If chlamydia is not treated, it can trigger severe complications and potential fatality. For instance, some of the long term effects of chlamydia in men can be painful and swollen testicles or urethral infections. Some women may develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), severe pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancy, or infertility if the condition is left untreated. You should talk to a medical professional if you suspect you may have had sexual contact with an infected person for the safety of your sexual health.
Who is at risk of chlamydia?
Chlamydia is typically common among young people who are active sexually. Its asymptomatic nature of the infection means that people can spread the bacteria through sex without knowing, thus infecting other people.
Anyone can get a chlamydial infection, but it is most common among young people. According to the CDC, 1 in 20 sexually active women aged 14 to 24 years has a chlamydial infection. In addition, two-thirds of newly reported chlamydia cases are among young people between the ages of 15 to 24.
How do you spread chlamydia?
You can get Chlamydia infection when you make sexual contact with vaginal fluid or semen of some who already has the infection. The bacteria that causes chlamydia can be transferred from an infected person to another when bodily fluids are exchanged during sexual activities. Therefore, this infection is spread through all types of sexual activities that involve the exchange of bodily fluid. These sexual activities may include:
- Oral sex
- Sexual intercourse
- Anal sex
- Sex involving toys
Although this infection is relatively easy to spread, you cannot get it from the following:
- Hugging or holding hands
- Sharing food or drinks
- Using a toilet after someone else,
- Or from the air.
Chlamydia usually doesn’t cause apparent symptoms in most people after infection, but there are instances where symptoms show up. People experience these symptoms differently based on their gender. Men and women may express these symptoms in different ways.
Symptoms in men
- Mucus-like or watery discharge from the penis
- Burning sensation or pain during urination
- Swollen testicles
Symptoms in women
- Pain during sex
- Itching in and around the vagina
- Presence of pus in the urine
- Yellow, white, or gray discharge from the vagina
- Burning sensation during urination
- Increased urge to frequently urinate
- Bleeding in between menstrual cycles
- Painful menstruation
- Chronic abdominal or pelvic pain
Both genders may experience the following symptoms;
Eyes: you may experience conjunctivitis if the bacteria gets into your eyes.
Anus: Pain and bleeding, including a mucus-like discharge, are some of the general symptoms of this infection.
Throat: You may experience a sore throat if the bacteria gets into your throat.
How can I reduce my risk of getting chlamydia?
Chlamydia is passed through the exchange of bodily fluids like semen or vaginal fluid during sexual activities. One of the best ways to reduce the risk of getting infected with chlamydia is to stay away from sex or always use a condom during sexual engagements. You should also make sure that you get screened regularly.
To reduce the risk of infection, you have to limit the number of your sexual partners. Keeping more than one partner puts you at risk of getting this bacteria infection. In addition, you or your partner can have chlamydia without showing any apparent symptoms. Therefore, you should ensure regular chlamydia tests.
Long term effects of chlamydia
It is common for people to have a chlamydial infection for years without knowing it because it doesn’t show symptoms during the early stages of infection most times. However, if left untreated, the long term effects of chlamydia can be pretty severe and sometimes irreparable health complications.
Chlamydia can trigger pelvic inflammatory disease in women after spreading to the womb, ovaries, or fallopian tubes. This infection can trigger the scarring of the fallopian tubes, making it difficult for women to become pregnant.
In addition to causing infertility in women, some adverse effects can also include chronic pelvic or abdominal pain In addition, bleeding between menstrual cycles, pain, discomfort during sex, and painful urination can also occur.
Pregnant women with chlamydial infection can pass the infection to their babies during delivery. As a result, the baby might be born with lung or eye infections.
Men can also suffer infections of the urethra if they have an untreated chlamydial disease.
Long term effects of chlamydia in men
Men that are active sexually must get screened for this infection regularly, as recommended by the CDC. The usual lack of visible symptoms can lead a man to live with chlamydia without knowing it, thus leaving it untreated. The long-term effect of this infection in men can include pain around the testicles and infertility.
Chlamydial infection can trigger a fever, scrotal pain, and swelling when it inflames the coiled tube beside each testicle.
Chlamydia can also cause severe complications like the infection of the urethra- the tube in the penis that urine and semen go through.
Reactive arthritis or Reiter’s syndrome is also one of the long-term effects of chlamydia. This conditions affects the eyes, joints, and the tube that conveys urine from the bladder to outside the body- the urethra.
In addition, the chlamydia bacteria can spread to a man’s prostate gland causing postratis. As a result, men can experience pain during sex, fever and cold, painful urination, and lower back pain.
Long term effect on women
As noted earlier, untreated chlamydia can trigger several health complications in infected women. For instance, the infection can adversely affect a woman’s reproductive organs through PID. This infection can lead to the inflammation of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus, leading to pelvic pain and infertility through the build-up of scar tissue. Most times, when chlamydia causes these adverse effects, the damage is nearly impossible to reverse.
Chlamydial infections also increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy in women. This complication occurs when a fertilized egg starts growing outside of the uterus in a fallopian tube. This can lead to a ruptured tube if the pregnancy is not removed.
Untreated chlamydia also increases your risk of contracting other sexually transmitted infections like syphilis and gonorrhea.
You can be chlamydia diagnosed by your doctor through some means. For example, your doctor can take samples from a man’s urethra or a woman’s cervix with a swab or rolling stick to be sent to the laboratory for screening. Your urine sample can also be tested likewise a sample of your blood.
Chlamydia treatment options
Chlamydia is commonly treated using antibiotics like doxycycline and azithromycin. Suppose you use these drugs correctly as prescribed by your doctor. In that case, the symptoms of the infections should clearly improve in a short period. This discounts any long-term damage the disease might have caused in the body.
Before using antibiotics for chlamydial infections, ensure you have spoken to your doctor. Your doctor may screen you to determine the nature of your disease. Once your doctor has confirmed your condition, you may be immediately prescribed these antibiotics to kickstart your treatment.
Your doctor may advise other treatment options if you’re allergic, breastfeeding, or pregnant. Alternatives include erythromycin or amoxicillin for pregnant people.
Can chlamydia go away without treatment?
It is unlikely that a chlamydial infection will go away without treatment. If symptoms of the infection appear, they might improve temporarily without treatment, but the bacteria may remain in the body. This can lead to severe complications and long term effects damages. Therefore, it is vital to get screened, diagnosed, and treated immediately if you suspect you may have made contact with infected fluid.
How long can you be infected with chlamydia without knowing?
Chlamydia can remain in a person’s body for many years without showing obvious symptoms. In some cases, these symptoms show within 2-14 days of exposure to the bacteria. Notwithstanding, most people can have chlamydia for many years without even knowing it; this is especially true for men.
If you are young and active sexually, it’s recommended that you get screened regularly to avoid the risks that come with leaving chlamydia untreated. If an infected person conducts a test, even when the infection shows no symptoms, they will test positive for chlamydia.
What if I still have symptoms after treatment?
It is possible to have symptoms of this infection after treatment still. If your symptoms remain after a few days of treatment, you should return to your doctor for reevaluation. This is because repeat chlamydial infections are entirely possible and common. This is why you should avoid sex until you have completed your treatment. In addition, you can get reinfected if your partner has not been correctly treated.
When to consult a doctor
You should reach out to your doctor once you suspect you have sexual contact with an infected person. Your healthcare provider will recommend the next course of action, which may include screening and treatment options.
Frequently Asked Questions
Chlamydia is spread by the bacteria chlamydia trachomatis and can be treated with antibiotics even after a year of infection. If you’ve had chlamydia for a year or more, consult your doctor about possible screening and treatment options.
The symptoms of the infection are expected to improve a few days after starting your treatment. If you complete your recommended dosage, the infection should go away in one to two weeks.