Sexually transmitted diseases and infections have existed all through our own existence as humans. The only difference is that nowadays, we have more than enough methods and techniques that can help us eliminate these infections from the very beginning. And yet, we fail to see the much-needed decline in the rates of these common diseases. That is why today, we wanted to explore the topic of chlamydia and explain why it is very important to practice safe sex and head for regular chlamydia testing as a way to protect your health and life.
What is chlamydia?
Chlamydia is one of the common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It is caused by a bacteria known as Chlamydia trachomatis. The bacteria is transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse, including oral, vaginal, and anal sexual intercourse. Contrary to common belief, chlamydia cannot be transmitted through kissing, hugging, sharing cutlery, towels, or the toilet with an infected person.
This common infection affects both men and women. In women, chlamydia affects their cervix, fallopian tube, rectum, eye, or throat, depending on the type of sexual intercourse through which the bacteria has been transmitted. Men can get chlamydia in the urethra, rectum, eye, or throat, again, depending on the type of sexual intercourse through which the bacteria has been transmitted. It is also possible for chlamydia to be transmitted from a mother to her baby in the womb during childbirth.
How common is chlamydia?
Chlamydia has been considered to be the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) reported to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) as of 1994. Unfortunately, we do not seem to see a decline in these numbers. In 2017, 708,569 new cases of chlamydia infection had been registered in the United States. These numbers show that there has been an approximately 22% increase since 2013.
The infection is quite common outside the United States as well, affecting nearly 187 per 100,000 persons in the European countries, according to the ECDC (European Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). High rates of chlamydia have been registered in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and the United Kingdom.
Statistics show that chlamydia is most common among young people. According to a study published in the Sexually Transmitted Diseases, approximately two-thirds of the new chlamydia infections in 2008 were reported among young people aged 15-24. Another research has shown that 1 in 20 sexually active women between the age of 14 to 24 has or have had chlamydia in the past after looking through statistical data between 2007 and 2012.
Over the years, a list of risk factors for chlamydia has been developed. This list includes risk factors such as:
- Being sexually active before the age of 25;
- Being involved in sex work;
- Practicing unsafe, unprotected sex;
- Having a history of chlamydia or other sexually transmitted infections;
- Having multiple sex partners within the past year;
- Having experienced sexual assault;
- Being a man who engages in sex with other men, etc.
What are the symptoms of chlamydia?
Chlamydia is also known as the silent epidemic, especially among women and mothers-to-be. The reason for that is because it is common for the chlamydia infection to cause no symptoms whatsoever, which means that most of these individuals are asymptomatic. Only 10% of the men and 5-30% of the women with chlamydia have actually shown symptoms in the past. On the other hand, around 90% of the women and 70% of the men have shown no symptoms.
If symptoms do appear, that usually happens between the first and the third week after the transmission with Chlamydia trachomatis has happened. This makes it very easy for chlamydia to spread, affecting more and more people who are left unaware of their health. Chlamydia is especially dangerous for expecting mothers, and although chlamydia testing is usually done at the first visit at the doctor’s office after pregnancy has been detected, there are still numerous cases of a chlamydia infection that has caused serious complications for the baby.
Some of the most common symptoms reported among women include:
- Yellow-colored vaginal
discharge with a strong smell;
- Painful sexual intercourse;
- Frequent urination;
- Bleeding between menstrual periods;
- Swelling in the vagina or around the anus;
- A burning sensation during urination, etc.
If the infection ends up spreading due to lack of treatment, other symptoms such as fever, nausea, and pain in the lower abdomen are expected to occur as well.
- Chlamydia symptoms in men
In men, the following symptoms are expected to occur:
- Discharge from the
penis which can either be pus, watery, or milky discharge;
- A burning sensation during urination;
- Pain and swelling in one or both testicles, with only one testicle being commonly affected by these symptoms;
- Burning and/or itching sensation around the penis;
- Irritation around the rectum, etc.
The possible complications of untreated chlamydia infection
Early diagnosis and treatment are the key elements of reducing the risk of the numerous serious complications that an untreated chlamydia infection can lead to. Let’s look into the possible complications among both men and women.
- Possible complications
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) – Pelvic inflammatory disease is the term that is being used to refer to an infection that affects the upper part of the female reproductive system. This includes the uterus, fallopian tubes, and the ovaries. According to the CDC, about 10-15% of the women with an untreated chlamydia infection develop a pelvic inflammatory disease. The pelvic inflammatory disease causes some difficult symptoms, with infertility being one of the potential symptoms.
- Cervicitis – Cervicitis is an inflammation and irritation that affects the neck of the womb, causing symptoms such as itching, painful intercourse, and vaginal discharge. Often, cervicitis is linked to untreated chlamydia infection.
- Salpingitis – Salpingitis is a type of pelvic inflammatory disease, often caused by sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea and chlamydia if left untreated. It refers to an inflammation of the fallopian tubes, which often starts off by affecting one fallopian tube with a high risk of spreading and affecting the other one as well. Salpingitis comes with a high risk of ectopic pregnancy if left untreated.
- Possible complications
- Epiddimytis – Testicle pain, tenderness, red, and swollen scrotum that appears warm are the common symptoms of epididymitis. Epiddimytis refers to an inflammation of the epididymis, which represents a structure inside the scrotum.
- Urethritis – Urethritis is a common inflammation of the urethra.
Complications that can happen to both men and women include reactive arthritis, infertility, conjunctivitis, and inflammation of the gastrointestinal system. Among pregnant women, leaving chlamydia untreated can easily lead to pre-term delivery and low birth weight. It can also cause pneumonia and conjunctivitis to occur among newborns.
How is chlamydia diagnosed?
Diagnosing chlamydia usually involves a physical exam and a swab sample taken from the penis, cervix, urethra, throat, or rectum. A urine sample may be taken as well. Lately, there have been many brands that offer test kits for various sexually transmitted diseases. This, of course, is considered to be a big step forward and a technique that is thought to finally cause a decline in the high numbers of new sexually transmitted disease cases.
However, since most patients are asymptomatic, it is highly important for everyone who is sexually active and practicing unprotected sex to undergo a chlamydia screening, as well as screening for any other sexually transmitted disease. A chlamydia screening is highly recommended for certain individuals such as those who:
- Are sexually active and are under the age of 25;
- Are pregnant;
- Are engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse;
- Have multiple sex partners;
- Are engaged in sex work, etc.
Treatment of chlamydia
The best news so far is that chlamydia, as much dangerous it is, it is also quite easy to be treated. That is if it has been caught in time, and early treatment has been introduced to the patient as a way to reduce the high risk of complications.
Chlamydia infection is efficiently treated with the use of antibiotics. There are two antibiotics that are most commonly prescribed – Azithromycin and Doxycycline. Other prescription antibiotics may be used, as well. In pregnant women, alternative antibiotics may be prescribed. One thing to remember, though – is very important not to engage in unprotected sex during the treatment. Although you or your partner are getting properly treated, there is still the risk of spreading the chlamydia infection, especially in the early stages of the treatment.
Why care about Chlamydia?
One of the common sexually transmitted infections, Chlamydia, is threatening to cause difficult symptoms and possible complications to our health, if left untreated, that is. And to think about how easy it is to eliminate this awful infection from your life. Do not let yourself be one of the millions of people all around the world who are staying quiet about this annoying infection being a part of their lives. Consult your doctor about your symptoms and get your prescribed antibiotics to fight this infection from the very beginning.