Anna had no symptoms when she went to a Wake County, North Carolina clinic to pick up her birth control pills. But, a routine test revealed that the 20-year-old had chlamydia. She did not have any symptoms but was still diagnosed sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Chlamydial infection is a curable sexually transmitted disease (STD), which is caused by a bacterium called Chlamydia trachomatis . The infection can be spread during oral, vaginal, or anal sexual contact with an infected partner. It can also be passed from mother to baby during delivery.
Chlamydia can cause serious problems in women, as well as in newborn babies of infected mothers. Men can also be infected with chlamydia. This infection is one of the most common STDs in the United States.
Because chlamydia does not make most people sick, you can have it and not know it. Those who do have symptoms may have an abnormal discharge from the vagina or penis or burning during urination. These may appear within 1-3 weeks after being infected. Because the symptoms may be mild or not exist at all, someone with chlamydia may not realize that treatment is needed.
One serious complication of chlamydia is infertility. This is happens if the infection goes untreated and spreads to the uterus or fallopian tubes, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Women who develop PID have a reduced likelihood of becoming pregnant because of scarring of their fallopian tubes. The risk of infertility rises with each episode of PID.
For pregnant women who are infected with chlamydia, there are complications that can occur during delivery. For example, when exposed to C. trachomatis in the birth canal, the baby may develop conjunctivitis (an eye infection) or pneumonia. Preterm delivery and low-birth weight have also been associated with chlamydia infection. Because of these risks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends STD testing for all pregnant women during their first prenatal visit.
Men can also experience complications. They may develop a painful condition called epididymitis, inflammation of the epididymis. The epididymis is the tube that carries and stores sperm cells. Men with epdidiymitis may have a range of symptoms, including pain and soreness in the testicles, swelling of the scrotum, fever, and chills. Another possible complication is urethritis, which affects the tube that carries urine out of the body. This can cause urinary problems, as well as other symptoms like discharge from the penis, blood in the semen, and pain during ejaculation.
In addition,C. trachomatis can cause inflamed rectum and throat infection from oral sex with an infected partner. Reactive arthritis is another less common complication that involves painful and swollen joints.
Chlamydial infection is easily confused with gonorrhea because the symptoms of both diseases are similar and the diseases can occur together. The most reliable ways to find out whether the infection is chlamydial are through lab tests. Usually, a doctor will send a sample of pus from the vagina or penis to a lab for examination. It may take several days to get the report from the lab. A urine test is also available and does not require a pelvic exam or swabbing of the penis.
If you are infected with C. trachomatis, your doctor will probably give you a prescription for an antibiotic, such as azithromycin (taken for one day only) or doxycycline (taken for seven days). Doctors may treat pregnant women with other medicines (eg, amoxicillin).
If you have chlamydial infection:
You can reduce your chance of getting chlamydia or giving it to your partner by using male latex condoms correctly every time you have sexual intercourse (oral, anal, or vaginal). If you are infected but have no symptoms, you may still pass the bacteria to your sex partners without knowing it. Therefore, the CDC recommends that all sexually active women aged 25 years and younger get screened for chlamydia every year, as well as women over the age of 25 who have new or multiple sex partners. In addition, if you have been treated for chlamydia, you should be retested after three months to make sure you are not reinfected.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Sex Information and Education Council of Canada
Alan R. Epididymitis. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary/. Updated September 1, 2011. Accessed June 5, 2012.
Badash M. Epididymitis. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary/. Updated September 1, 2011. Accessed June 5, 2012.
Chlaymdia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/ . Updated May 24, 2012. Accessed June 5, 2012.
Chlamydia - CDC fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/STDFact-Chlamydia.htm. Updated February 8, 2012. Accessed June 5, 2012.
Chlamydia: symptoms. American Academy of Family Physicians, Family Doctor.org website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/chlamydia/symptoms.html . Updated March 2010. Accessed June 5, 2012.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/ . Updated May 21, 2012. Accessed June 5, 2012.
Last reviewed June 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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