Chlamydia – Symptoms in Men & Women
If you’re sexually active, it’s possible that you may already have Chlamydia and not know about it. This disease rarely has evident symptoms, and only makes its presence felt once the complications set in. The good news is: Chlamydia can be treated with antibiotics and is easy to cure before complications develop.
Individuals who are sexually active should go for regular screening and testing and be treated for Chlamydia immediately if tested positive. Early detection can save you from serious health complications and even infertility.
What is Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is a sexually-transmitted disease or STD caused by (and named after) the parasitic bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. Chlamydia affects the cervix, fallopian tubes and uterus in women, and the urethra, epididymis and prostate in men.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Chlamydia is the most commonly reported STD, affecting an estimated 2.8 million Americans annually.
Who Are Most At Risk of Chlamydia Infection?
Majority of reported Chlamydia infections are from teenagers, with almost half of all reported cases (46%) estimated to be from girls 15-19 years old. It is believed that teenage girls are more susceptible to a Chlamydia infection because the cervix at this age is not yet fully developed, and therefore prone to infection. Persons of African-American descent are more likely to contract this disease than Whites and Hispanics.
Others who are also consider high risk includes:
- Individuals who have multiple sexual partners or partners who are bi-sexual
- Those who do not practice safe sex with inconsistent condom use during sexual intercourse
- People who exchange money or drugs for sex
- Individuals who had a history of other sexually transmitted infections (STI)
How Is Chlamydia Spread?
Like most STDs, the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis are carried in semen and vaginal fluids and is transmitted through oral, vaginal or anal sex with an infected partner. It may also spread through the sharing of infected sex toys. Behavior-wise, men and women who have multiple partners and those who engage in unprotected sex are at risk for Chlamydia infection.
The bacterial primarily infects the mucus membranes of the cervix in women and of the urethra in men. However, it can also infect other mucus membranes as well.
Chlamydia can also be transmitted to an infant during vaginal delivery through the child’s passing through the birth canal if the mother is infected.
Kissing is not a risk factor in transmitting chlamydia and neither is it known to be passed on through sharing of towels, toilet seats or bed sheets.
How Do I Know If I Have Chlamydia?
Symptoms of Chlamydia often occur within 1 to 3 weeks of infection. However it is often called a silent STD, as it has almost no noticeable symptoms and is often only detected after complications have developed, or if there’s already significant damage to the reproductive organs. Some men and women do experience Chlamydia symptoms but to be safe, individuals who are sexually active should get a Chlamydia test at least once a year.
How Soon Can I Get Tested For Chlamydia?
If you are sexually active, make Chlamydia testing or any other STD testing part of your routine. The window period for Chlamydia testing is 2 to 6 weeks after any sexual contact to know if you have been infected.
Chlamydia Symptoms In Men
Among men, around 50% of infected males do not experience any symptoms. Those that experience symptoms report the following:
- pain or burning sensation during urination
- frequent urination
- urethritis (irritated urethra)
- redness and itching at the opening of the penis
- yellowish or whitish penile discharge
- epididymitis (swelling of the testicles)
- pain in the testicles
- pain between the anal and scrotum area
Men can also develop symptoms away from the penis area. If Chlamydia was contracted through anal sex, symptoms can include rectal pain, bleeding in the anus, diarrhea, mucus discharge from the anus and pain during bowel movement. For Chlamydia that is contracted through oral sex, symptoms can include throat swelling and irritation.
These symptoms should appear within 1 to 3 weeks after contracting the infection.
Chlamydia Symptoms In Women
About 3 in 4 women with Chlamydia don’t experience any symptoms. But those that do, report the following:
- abnormal vaginal discharge
- frequent urination
- burning pain when urinating
- bleeding after intercourse (outside of one’s period)
- heavier menstrual flow than usual
- pelvic pain
- painful menstruating period
When the infection has spread from the cervix to the fallopian tubes, there can be lower abdominal pain, lower back pain, fever and nausea.
Same as with men, women can develop symptoms away from the vaginal area. (Please see the section on “Chlamydia Symptoms in Men” for symptoms associated with Chlamydia contracted through anal and oral sex.)
Similarly, Chlamydia symptoms in women should appear within 1 to 3 weeks from contracting the infection.
How Is Chlamydia Diagnosed & Tested?
Chlamydia is diagnosed using the patient’s history, a laboratory test for Chlamydia infection, and physical/pelvic exam.
The screening for Chlamydia is relatively simple and the laboratory test would require either urine samples and/or swipe samples from the infected area.
The tests used to diagnose Chlamydia include cell culture test, DFA staining, Enzyme immunoassay and DNA probe.
Chlamydia Treatment – How Is Chlamydia Treated?
If one is tested positive for Chlamydia, the treatment for the disease is simply with antibiotics, such as azithromycin, doxycycline, or erythomycin. Typically, the treatment course may take a week. During this period, patients should abstain from sexual intercourse during the course of the antibiotic treatment to prevent the spread of the infection.
If a women is expecting and is infected with chlamydia, doctors will usually prescribe the antibiotic, Erythromycin as treatment since the other types of antibiotics may potentially be harmful to the unborn child. Once the expecting mother is treated, the baby faces almost no risks of being born with chlamydia.
What If Chlamydia Is Not Treated?
According to the CDC, around 15% of women with untreated Chlamydia can develop Pelvic Inflammatory Disease or PID should the infection spread to the uterus and the fallopian tubes. And if PID remains untreated (which happens to around 18% of the women with who develop PID), the disease can progress to chronic inflammatory pain.
Women can also develop scarring of the fallopian tube from untreated Chlamydia. When this happens, the infection can block the egg from getting fertilized, which results in inability to conceive. It may also cause the fertilized egg to get stuck in the fallopian tubes, causing life-threatening tubal pregnancy. Babies born to women with active Chlamydia infection may also develop serious health complications such as eye infections, or develop lung infections that may lead to blindness, permanent lung damage, or death from pneumonia.
Women who are not treated for Chlamydia are also more at risk to be infected with other STDs.
Serious health issues from untreated Chlamydia are not common in men. Sometimes, Chlamydia infection can lead to the inflammation of the epididymis (part of the male reproductive system ) resulting in fever, pain and in some cases, infertility.
Can Chlamydia Be Cured?
Yes. Antibiotic treatment is usually sufficient. But it’s important that sexually active individuals go for regular screenings and test and if Chlamydia is detected, treatment should be start as early as possible to prevent serious health complications.