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Symptoms, Complications and Treatment of Chlamydia

Chlamydia happens to be the most widespread sexually transmitted disease in the US and most other countries of the western world, carrying serious health implications. The infection spreads easily because many patients do not realize they have it, which is due to the lack of symptoms. About 75% of women and 50% of men with this disease never experience any symptoms, therefore, the majority of chlamydia infections go unrecognized. Nonetheless, experts estimate that there are a couple of million of new cases of chlamydia in the US each year.

Causes of Chlamydia

Chlamydia is caused by a bacteria and it is spread through sexual intercourse.

Risk Factors for Chlamydia

Age and sexual behavior are the strongest factors determining the risk of infection. You are more likely to get infected with chlamydia if you are under the age of 20, if you or your partner have had many sexual partners, if you are using oral contraceptives instead of condoms, if you have a history of another sexually transmitted infection and if you have an inflamed cervix. The age is such a relevant factor because people under age 20 are more likely to have multiple sex partners and teenagers tend to experience cervicitis more often than older adults. In addition, taking oral contraceptives also increases the risk of contracting cervicitis, which in turn opens the door to chlamydia infection. As it usually happens with most sexually transmitted diseases, chlamydia strikes women harder than it does men. Statistically, from one act of unprotected intercourse with an infected partner, 40% of women will contract the disease while only about 20% of men will get infected.

Symptoms of Chlamydia

As it was mentioned earlier, the lack of symptoms in many patients is what makes chlamydia such a mysterious disease. But when symptoms do occur, women experience a yellowish vaginal discharge known as mucopurulent cervicitis. Other symptoms in women include pain or bleeding during intercourse, pain when urinating, painful periods, lower abdominal or rectal pain, itching in and around vagina, intermittent vaginal bleeding and mucus-covered stools. Symptoms in men are painful urination, swelling and pain around the testicles, itching and burning around the opening of the penis and small amounts of discharge from the tip of the penis. Symptoms typically show up between one to two weeks after infection. Please note that symptoms of gonorrhoea, another sexually transmitted disease, can sometimes mimic those of chlamydia.

Possible Complications of Chlamydia

The most common complication of chlamydia infection in women is pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which in turn can lead to tubal infertility and ectopic pregnancy. Furthermore, chlamydia is often associated with increased risk for other sexually transmitted diseases, reactive arthritis, infections in newborns and prostate-gland infections and inflammation of the testicles in men. Studies show that 30% of women with untreated chlamydia infections will become sterile. Chlamydia can also cause infertility in men. In addition, pregnant women infected with chlamydia are at increased risk for postpartum endometriosis, spontaneous abortions and stillbirths whereas their infants are at greater risk for conditions such as eye infections, bronchitis and pneumonia.

Diagnosing Chlamydia

Since chlamydia infection often has no signs, it is recommended that all sexually active women under the age of 25 are tested for the infection at least once a year. Furthermore, pregnant women should be tested during their first prenatal exam and also all other women and men who have multiple sexual partners should consider regular screenings. If your cervix is red and swollen and bleeds easily, your doctor may suspect chlamydia. The doctor will take a cervical swab or a urine test. In men, the swab will be taken from the urethra.

Treatment of Chlamydia

Chlamydia infection is treated with oral antibiotics. The recommended treatment is either doxycycline (Adoxa, Doryx, Monodox, Vibrox, Vibramycin, etc.), 100mg twice a day for seven days or azithromycin (Zithromax), in a single-dose treatment of one gram (two or four tablets taken at once). The effectiveness of the two antibiotics is the same and the infection should resolve within one or two weeks, while during that time you should abstain from sex. Sometimes, your doctor may also prescribe other oral antibiotics such as amoxicillin (Amoxil) or erythromycin (Eryc, PCE, etc.).

It is important to note that all the patient’s recent sexual partners should receive treatment as well, even if they have no symptoms. If the patient is symptomatic, all partners from the last thirty days should be notified. If the patient is asymptomatic, all partners from the last sixty days should be notified.

Prevention of Chlamydia

Condoms should provide sufficient protection from the chlamydia bacteria. In addition, limiting the number of sexual partners and avoiding vaginal douching should help reduce the risk further.