Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted disease, or STD caused by a bacteria. While the symptoms of chlamydia may be mild, the complications that may occur as a result of the infection mat be serious and irreversible. Chlamydia affects men and women and may be transmitted through vaginal, oral or anal sex. Chlamydia can also affect the fetus of a pregnant woman who has contracted the disease.

Chlamydia is the most common bacterial sexually transmitted disease reported in the United States. Over one million cases of chlamydia are reported in the United States each year, with more cases left unreported as some people do not experience any symptoms of the condition.

Symptoms of Chlamydia

Many patients do not experience any symptoms of a chlamydia infection, and therefore do not even know they are infected with the disease and may unknowingly pass the infection to others. Those who do experience the symptoms of chlamydia usually notice them one to three weeks after exposure. These symptoms are usually mild and may not be cause for concern for many patients. Symptoms may vary for men and women.

Symptoms in women may include:

  • Burning sensation with urination
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Nausea
  • Low grade fever
  • Lower back pain
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Bleeding between menstrual cycles
  • Sore throat

Symptoms in men may include:

  • Burning sensation with urination
  • Abnormal penile discharge
  • Itching or burning at the tip of the penis
  • Rectal pain
  • Rectal discharge or bleeding
  • Sore throat
  • Testicular pain or swelling

Diagnosis of Chlamydia

Chlamydia can be diagnosed by a physical examination by a doctor and usually involves a cervical swab from the vagina in women or a swab of the urethra from men. A urine test may also be performed to detect a chlamydia infection. Since this disease does not often cause symptoms and may lead to serious complications if left untreated, patients at an increased risk should be regularly screened.

Treatment of Chlamydia

Most cases of chlamydia can be treated with antibiotics. In most patients, with treatment, chlamydia infections will clear within one to two weeks. All sex partners should be treated for chlamydia as well, even if they do not exhibit any symptoms. It is important to refrain from sexual relations until treatment is completed. This reduces the risk of transmitting the disease to a partner and becoming re-infected. Infants that may become infected with chlamydia from their mother during child birth may also be treated with antibiotics for eye infections or in severe cases, pneumonia.

Complications of Chlamydia

Because the symptoms of chlamydia can go unnoticed, it can be left untreated for a long period of time. If left untreated, chlamydia may lead to serious reproductive and general health issues.

Complications in women may include:

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Ectopic or tubal pregnancy
  • Infertility
  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Chlamydia bacteria in the throat
  • Increased risk of contracting HIV
Complications in men may include:
  • Infertility
  • Prostatitis
  • Infection
  • Proctitis
  • Chlamydia bacteria in the throat
  • Epididymitis
  • Increased risk of contracting HIV

Health complications are more common in women, although men may experience additional infections.

Pregnant women may run the risk of the following:

  • Premature delivery
  • Conjunctivitis infection in newborn
  • Pneumonia in newborn

Prevention of Chlamydia

Like other STDs, the only way to prevent chlamydia is to abstain from sexual contact or to be in a long-term, monogamous relationship with a partner that has been tested. Using condoms can help reduce the risk of developing chlamydia, while regular testing can help prevent spreading the disease unknowingly to a partner. Men and women are advised to get regular checkups and pelvic exams. Early detection screening is recommended for sexually active female patients under the age of 24, and pregnant women. Regular screening is recommended for men and women, older than 25, who have been previously diagnosed with chlamydia, had multiple sex partners, or engaged in unprotected sex.

While chlamydia is a serious infection with possible complications, it is not a life-threatening disease. Chlamydia can be treated effectively if patients are diagnosed promptly.

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