Chlamydia trachomatis is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by bacteria that reside in the cervix and vaginal tract. Symptoms include pelvic pain and irritation during intercourse. Chlamydia often has no symptoms in its early stages, but if left untreated it can cause scarring to the cervix and make the infection difficult to treat.
It is one of the common sexually transmitted infection (STI) among young adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If left untreated, the infection can cause inflammation of the cervix, which may lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and cervical cancer.
“In spite of the emphasis on safe sex, many young people are not aware that they have chlamydia or gonorrhea,” Dr. Cara Christ, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, tells Bustle. “So, they are experiencing the side effects of the infection, and the infection is left untreated.”
The best thing you can do to clear up the symptoms of STI is to get tested ASAP.
Of course, even if you don’t have symptoms, you should still get tested, according to the CDC. “The only way to know if you have an STI is to get tested,” Christ says. But, the sooner you get tested, the better — because getting chlamydia or gonorrhea isn’t a one-and-done deal.
If you do test positive, your doctor can prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection. While chlamydia and gonorrhea are often symptomless, they can cause very painful and uncomfortable symptoms, which can be treated with antibiotics. But, if left untreated, STIs can cause serious complications.
“People who get chlamydia or gonorrhea should start treatment as soon as possible,” the CDC says. However, if the infection is not treated, symptoms can get worse.
How can I avoid contracting chlamydia?
With more than 15 million new cases of chlamydia, HIV and syphilis worldwide each year, sex, especially unprotected, is the best way to become infected.
STI symptoms can include:
- pain or itching in the back or between the legs
- burning during urination or intercourse
- unusual discharge from the genitals
- tender, swollen glands around the vagina
- pain or itching in the penis or testicles
- painful urination
- bleeding during urination or intercourse
- unexplained weight loss or unexplained fever
Chlamydia is a treatable STI that can be cured with antibiotics if diagnosed early enough. Most people who have chlamydia don’t experience any symptoms, so it is important to seek medical treatment if symptoms occur. If untreated, chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility.
How is Chlamydia diagnosed?
The initial chlamydia diagnosis is a simple test that involves a swab of the cervix. The swab is placed in a test tube and sent to the lab to be tested for the bacteria. If the sample is positive for chlamydia, the lab should also test for the virus that is the leading cause of most STIs.
Sometimes, however, your doctor may order additional tests. These can include:
- genital and vaginal swabs to detect sexually transmitted infections
- HPV and hepatitis C tests to check for these sexually transmitted infections
- perimenopausal ovarian cysts to check for infection of the ovaries
Additional tests may be recommended to find out if chlamydia has spread to the fallopian tubes and other parts of the body. If the doctor suspects that chlamydia has spread, they can send the sample to an infectious diseases doctor for confirmation.
Additional testing for pregnancy and HIV is also available. If chlamydia is suspected of being the cause of pregnancy, the doctor will perform a test for antibodies to the bacteria. And if the test is positive, the doctor will need to perform additional tests.
If you have HIV, your doctor may recommend additional tests to confirm the diagnosis. If HIV is present, you may be tested for syphilis.
What should I do if I think I have chlamydia?
A doctor can determine the type of infection based on the symptoms and the test results. If the doctor suspects chlamydia, they will generally prescribe oral or injectable antibiotics.
In rare cases, chlamydia infections can spread from a woman to her unborn child. To protect the child, a doctor may perform a chlamydia test on the mother at the first prenatal visit. If the infection is found in the mother, the doctor will probably give her a three-day course of antibiotics to prevent the spread of the infection to the child.
In cases where chlamydia is suspected of being the cause of pregnancy, the doctor may give the mother an injection of the antibiotic, put her on bed rest and suggest that she avoid sex for two weeks. If chlamydia is the cause of the pregnancy, the doctor will check the baby’s umbilical cord for signs of infection before birth.
If chlamydia is not the cause of the pregnancy, the doctor may recommend a few other tests to make sure there is no other infection. These tests may include a test for syphilis, gonorrhea or HIV.
How is Chlamydia treated?
Most people infected with chlamydia do not experience any symptoms and can usually treat the infection on their own.
Sometimes, however, chlamydia can lead to serious complications, such as infertility. This is because untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease. Also, an untreated chlamydia infection can spread to the fallopian tubes or other parts of the body. If the infection spreads to other parts of the body, an ectopic pregnancy may result, which is a pregnancy in which the baby develops in the fallopian tubes rather than the uterus. This may be life-threatening to both the mother and the baby.
Chlamydia can also cause scar tissue to form, known as pelvic inflammatory disease. If the infection continues to spread, it can damage a woman’s genital organs. This can lead to pain or discomfort, which may require treatment.
If chlamydia is suspected of being the cause of infertility, doctors may recommend a routine ultrasound during the first prenatal visit.
How long does it take for chlamydia to clear?
Most infections clear on their own, although persistent infections are sometimes not diagnosed.
However, some cases are not cured by antibiotic treatment and may require surgical intervention, such as:
Tomosynthesis, an MRI test that uses a radiographic contrast to detect chlamydia
Chlamydia is also spread in oral sex, which is why anyone with symptoms of an STI should use a latex condom every time they have oral sex.
Is there a way to prevent infection?
The best way to prevent chlamydia infection is by using condoms and avoiding oral sex.
If an individual suspects they have chlamydia, they can visit their doctor to make sure they have a simple, reliable test and obtain the correct antibiotics.