What is Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is an infectious disease that is sexually transmitted. It can affect the urethra, vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, penis, rectum, and ovaries. This is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. It may also be transmitted to the eyes or lungs of a newborn infant.
How does it occur?
Chlamydia is caused by bacteria. The infection is passed from person to person during sex. It is very contagious. The bacteria can enter the body through any body opening, such as the mouth, vagina, penis, or rectum.
In women, the infection usually starts in the cervix. The cervix is the opening of the uterus inside the vagina. The bacteria may infect the throat or rectum after oral or anal sex.
A baby can be infected during childbirth if the mother has Chlamydia. When the baby passes through the birth canal, the bacteria can get into and infect the baby's eyes or lungs.
What are the symptoms?
Many women infected with Chlamydia have no symptoms. If symptoms occur, they appear 1 to 3 weeks after exposure to the disease. Symptoms of Chlamydia include:
- Thick, creamy, yellow vaginal discharge or from penis
- Burning or pain when you urinate
- Rectal discomfort and discharge (sometimes)
- bleeding or spotting between periods
- Menstrual periods that are heavier than usual
- Abdominal pain
- Pain during sex (sometimes)
- genital discomfort or pain
How is it diagnosed?
The most accurate way of testing for these bacteria is through a DNA probe. This consists of a special cotton swab that is placed in the cervix, throat, rectum or penis and sent off to the lab. If the DNA of the bacteria is found, the test is positive and the bacteria are present. Often this DNA probe checks for both Chlamydia and gonorrhea.
What is the treatment?
Chlamydia is treated with antibiotic medicine, taken by mouth. Your sexual partner or partners should also have treatment even if they have no symptoms.
What are the possible complications from Chlamydia?
- Infertility and/or sterility in females
- infecting one's sexual partner
- pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- liver infection (perihepatits)
- Reiter's syndrome
- Ectopic (tubal) pregnancy
- abdominal adhesions (scarring)
Risk of getting Chlamydia increases with:
- unprotected sexual activity, particularly in men and women under 26 yrs old
- history of other sexually transmitted diseases
- multiple sexual partners
- diabetes mellitus
- general poor health
How long will the effects last?
If only the cervix is infected, proper treatment should clear up the infection in about 10 days. The test needs to be repeated in 3 weeks to ensure that the infection has cleared completely.
The effects of the disease depend on:
- How long you have had Chlamydia
- How much the infection has spread
- If you have had Chlamydia before
- If you also are infected with gonorrhea
- If not treated, Chlamydia in women can spread through the uterus to the fallopian tubes and ovaries, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can cause infertility, as well as increase the risk of a tubal pregnancy (a pregnancy outside the uterus). Further complications of untreated Chlamydia include spread of infection into the bloodstream and to other parts of the body. If PID occurs, you may need to be hospitalized and given several antibiotics through the IV directly into the vein.
How can I take care of myself?
- Take all of the medication for as long as it is prescribed, even if your symptoms are gone before you have finished taking it.
- Tell everyone with whom you have had sex in the last 3 months about your infection. They must also be treated, even if they have no symptoms.
- Do not have sex before both you and your partner have finished all the medicine and you have had a negative test.
- Follow your provider's instructions for follow-up visits and tests. Your provider will need to make sure that the infection is gone.
- Make sure you are tested for all other STD's as well.
Call the office right away if:
- You develop severe abdominal pain.
- You vomit and cannot keep the medicine down.
- You develop a fever over 100°F (37.8°C).
- You feel you are getting sicker instead of better.
How can I help prevent Chlamydia?
- Make sure you tell your sexual partner(s) that they have been exposed to Chlamydia.
- Reduce the risk of infection by always using latex or polyurethane condoms during foreplay and sexual intercourse.
- Have just 1 sexual partner who is not sexually active with anyone else. Make sure your partner has been tested for gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases.
- Even if you don't have symptoms but have had unprotected sex (without a condom), see your health care provider to be checked for sexually transmitted diseases.