Chlamydia Infection

Written by Autumn Rivers and Jennifer Nelson
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What is a Chlamydia Infection?

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted disease that should be treated quickly in order to avoid complications. It is caused by bacteria that are usually spread through sexual contact. People with chlamydia often don’t have any outward symptoms. Therefore, if you think you may have been exposed to the disease, you should get tested right away.

Causes and Risk Factors of Chlamydia Infection

People of all ages and both sexes can get chlamydia. However, having sexual relations with several partners without using protection can greatly increase your chance of getting the disease.

In addition, men and women under the age of 25 tend to have a higher risk of being infected with chlamydia. Women, in particular, also have a higher risk. Additionally, pregnant women can pass the bacteria to their babies when they are born. If you are pregnant and there is a chance you have chlamydia, you should ask to be tested.

Recognizing the Signs of Chlamydia

Many patients do not notice the symptoms of chlamydia. If symptoms do appear, it is usually one to three weeks after you have been infected. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • burning feeling during urination
  • discharge from the penis or vagina
  • pain in the lower abdomen
  • painful sexual intercourse in women
  • pain in the testicles in men

In some women, the chlamydia infection can spread to the fallopian tubes, which may cause fever, nausea, and abnormal bleeding between periods.

Some patients get chlamydia infection in the rectum, in which case the main symptoms are often discharge, pain, and bleeding from this area.

If you have had oral sex with someone who has chlamydia, you may get this infection in your throat, which can lead to painful swallowing, a cough, and a fever.

Diagnosing Chlamydia

Your doctor will ask some questions about your sexual activities, such as if you have had multiple partners recently, and if you use condoms. You will also likely be asked about your symptoms. If you do not have any, your doctor may ask why you believe you might have this disease.

Your doctor may run tests to find out if the bacteria that cause chlamydia is in your body. A urine test will be taken. You may also have your cervix swabbed if you are female, while your urethra, where urine flows from, may be swabbed if you are male. If there is a chance the chlamydia is in your rectum or throat, these areas may be swabbed, as well.

Treating Chlamydia

Since bacteria cause chlamydia, the disease can often be treated with antibiotics. Azithromycin is an antibiotic usually prescribed in a single dose, while doxycycline must be taken twice per day for about one week.

There are other antibiotics that your doctor may prescribe. No matter which antibiotic you are given, you will need to follow the dosage instructions carefully to make sure the infection clears up fully. This usually takes two weeks at most, during which time you will need to refrain from sexual contact.

Long-Term Complications and Outlook

If you go see the doctor soon after you suspect you’ve contracted chlamydia, you will likely be able to clear up the infection with no lasting problems. However, if you wait too long to treat it, you may experience serious medical issues.

Female Complications

Some women develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), an infection that can damage the uterus, cervix, and ovaries. This is a painful disease that often requires hospital treatment.

Women can also become infertile if chlamydia is left untreated, since the fallopian tubes may become scarred. Women who do become pregnant while they have chlamydia can pass the bacteria to their babies during birth, which can cause eye infections and pneumonia in newborns.

Male Complications

Men can also experience complications when chlamydia is left untreated. For example, the epididymis, the tube that holds the testicles in place, may become inflamed, causing pain. In addition, the infection can spread to the prostate gland, causing a fever, painful intercourse, and discomfort in the lower back.

These are just some of the most common complications of untreated chlamydia, which is why it is important to get medical attention right away. Most people who are treated quickly have no long-term medical problems.

Prevention

One of the most effective ways of avoiding chlamydia infection is by limiting the amount of new sexual partners you have. The more people you have sexual intercourse with, the greater your chances of being exposed to the disease. In addition, during each sexual encounter, you should use a condom.

You should get tested for chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases between each new partner.

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