Often considered a silent disease, as many as 1 out of 4 men who are infected with chlamydia will show no symptoms, while only an estimated 30 percent of women will show signs or symptoms of the infection, says the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), where individuals who engage in sexual activity with multiple partners are the most at risk. Read on to learn more about this STI and what you can do to prevent it.
Chlamydia is an STI that is caused by the chlamydia trachomatis bacterium. It can be spread through vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected individual. Women who are pregnant can also pass the infection to their babies during childbirth. Even though the symptoms associated with this infection are typically mild or absent all together, serious complications can arise from them that result in irreversible damage, including infertility. However, there is a substantial amount of underreporting and information on chlamydia because so many men and women who have chlamydia are completely unaware of it and are not seeking testing or treatment.
Chlamydia is often regarded as a silent disease because a vast amount of affected men and women will have no symptoms of chlamydia to speak of, meaning that they are completely unaware of having the infection. When symptoms do occur, they usually only appear within one to three weeks following exposure to the infection.
In women, the primary infection points are the cervix and the urethra. Women who have symptoms usually experience:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Painful urination, often described as a burning sensation
- Lower abdominal pain that can go all the way to the lower back
- Vaginal bleeding between periods
- Painful intercourse
Men with chlamydia may experience the following symptoms:
- A discharge from the penis
- Burning sensation during urination
- Burning, itching and irritation around the opening of the penis
- Pain and swelling of the testicles
Other symptoms of chlamydia can appear in other areas of the body aside from the genitalia. This includes:
- Pain and discharge from the rectum when the infection is obtained via anal sex.
- Signs and symptoms that appear around the throat due to an infection obtained through oral sex.
Individuals who learn that they may have been exposed to chlamydia should seek medical attention immediately. Though they may not be experiencing symptoms, early diagnosis and treatment is crucial for preventing the spread of the infection.
Causes And Risk Factors
The primary cause of chlamydia transmission is having unprotected sex with someone who is infected. Symptoms do not have to be present in order for chlamydia to be transmitted. The surest way to prevent the spread of chlamydia trachomatis is simply to abstain from sex or to always have protected sex. It is also important to keep in mind that the infection can be transmitted through all forms of sex, including anal and oral sex.
Those most at risk for becoming infected by chlamydia are:
- Individuals who are sexually active
- People who sex with multiple partners
- Anyone who has unprotected sex
Tests And Diagnosis
Because most chlamydia infections do not show symptoms, the best way to diagnose the presence of chlamydia bacteria is through laboratory tests. A physician is likely to test any discharge from the penis or vagina for the presence of chlamydia trachomatis. Urine samples can also be tested to help with diagnosis. Individuals who may have obtained chlamydia through anal sex may require samples from the rectum to be taken to assist with diagnosis.
Fortunately, chlamydia can be treated and cured through the use of antibiotics. A single dose of an antibiotic like azithromycin or a weekly routine of doxycycline is usually enough to rid the body of a chlamydia infection. For treatment of chlamydia, it is recommended you see a physician first for the right chlamydia antibiotics and diagnosis. Since chlamydia is often accompanied by other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), like gonorrhea or syphilis, you may be screened for other STDs during your doctor’s visit.
It is also important that your partners also get screened and treated for chlamydia to prevent the spread of the infection. According to the NIH, it is possible to become infected by chlamydia trachomatis since there is no significant immunity after becoming infected. This is why it is so important to practice safe sex.
Individuals who are sexually active, have multiple partners, and/or have had unprotected sex should be screened regularly for chlamydia. The proper and consistent use of condoms during intercourse is the best way to prevent infection. If you discover that you are infected with chlamydia, it is important to notify your sex partner(s) so that they may be screened and treated to prevent the STI from spreading any further.