What is chlamydia?
Chlamydia comes from the Greek word meaning ‘to cloak’ and is caused by bacteria called chlamydia trachomatis. The bacteria mainly infect the genitals but it can sometimes infect the throat and rectum.
Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted disease in young adults. Chlamydia is very easy to treat with antibiotics but if left untreated can cause infertility. However, many people do not know they have chlamydia as it does not always produce symptoms (around 70% of people will have no symptoms). As a result chlamydia is sometimes called the ‘silent infection’.
How is chlamydia spread?
Chlamydia is spread in any of the following ways:
- Having unprotected anal, vaginal or oral sex with someone who is infected.
- A mother to her baby at birth, this is why we recommend you get yourself tested if you are planning pregnancy. For our chlamydia test click here.
- Occasionally, it can affect the eyes, known as trachoma. This can occur if the infection is transferred to the eyes, by fingers, which have been in contact with the genitals.
Chlamydia tends to infect women more than men, this is because women hold germs and fluids from male partners inside them for some time after sex.
What are the symptoms of chlamydia?
As mentioned previously chlamydia does not always have symptoms and symptoms if present can be mistaken for something less serious, such asthrush. However, if you have any of the following we would advise you to visit your doctor or local G.U.M. clinic. At the G.U.M. clinic you will be treated with total confidentiality, not even your doctor will be told of your visit unless you give permission. The service, treatment and advice at these clinics is totally free.
Men are more likely to have symptoms than women, but they may have no symptoms either.
In women symptoms may include: –
- An increase in vaginal discharge.
- Lower abdominal pain.
- Pain on urinating.
- Pain during sex.
- Bleeding between periods or after sex.
In men symptoms may include: –
- A discharge from the tip of the penis.
- Pain on urinating because the urethra is inflamed.
- Swelling of the testes (testicles).
If chlamydia infects the eyes, you may experience pain, swelling and irritation.
How can chlamydia be prevented?
The only way to be sure of avoiding chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases, is with the consistent use of condoms. To prevent infection the condom must be put on correctly and before any genital contact.
Remember, just because you have had chlamydia once doesn’t mean you will not get it again. Every time you have unprotected sex you are at risk of chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Am I at risk of catching chlamydia?
Anyone who has unprotected sexual intercourse may be at risk of catching chlamydia. Chlamydia is very common and because there are usually no symptoms it is very easy for the infection to be spread around, without people knowing they have got it. Chlamydia can appear in people who have not had a sexual partner for some time. This is often because his/her partner is infected but has no symptoms and so does not immediately pass the infection on. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your regular partner has become infected through sexual contact with someone else. Because chlamydia is so common it is advised that people who have regular sex, especially those with different sexual partners should be tested once a year, even if they feel healthy.
How is chlamydia diagnosed?
A doctor or nurse will examine your genital area and a swab (sample) is usually taken from the woman’s cervix, this will be similar to a smear test. In men a swab is taken from the tip of the penis. The swab is then sent to a laboratory for testing and the result is usually available within one week. A urine sample may also be taken, this is another way of diagnosing chlamydia for both men and women.
How is chlamydia treated?
Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics that destroy the germs in your body. If you are treated for chlamydia you must make sure that you finish the course of treatment and ensure that your partner is also treated, to avoid getting infected again. During treatment you should avoid sexual intercourse to avoid re-infection. Once you have finished treatment it is important that you go back to your doctor for a check-up to make sure the infection has gone.
What are the effects of untreated chlamydia?
In women, if chlamydia is left untreated the bacteria may spread into the pelvic area and infect the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries leading to a disease called pelvic inflammatory disease. This disease can lead to many complications including infertility.
If a woman has chlamydia during pregnancy she will risk having an ectopic pregnancy, early labour or passing the infection on to her baby, which would cause an infection in the babies eyes or lungs.
In men, chlamydia can cause a painful swelling of the testicles, which could also cause infertility.
Reiter’s syndrome, which causes inflammation of the eyes and joints can also develop in men and women as a result of untreated chlamydia.