Untreated chlamydia can cause serious health problems
Chlamydia infection often gets unnoticed or overlooked because it causes no symptoms in most people. Untreated chlamydia disease, however, can cause serious health problems with both short- and long-term complications.
- In women, the infection can ascend upward and spread to the uterus or uterine tubes causing their inflammation (pelvic inflammatory disease or PID).
- PID may be symptomatic or asymptomatic (subclinical PID). Symptomatic PID manifests as lower abdominal pain, abnormal vaginal bleeding, rash or ulcer, and foul-smelling vaginal discharge. It occurs in about 10-15% of women with untreated chlamydia infection.
- Both symptomatic and subclinical PID can lead to irreparable damage to the uterine tubes, uterus, and surrounding tissues. This damage can cause long-term pain in the lower abdomen, infertility, and potentially fatal ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy in which the fertilized egg grows outside the womb or uterus).
- In some patients, untreated chlamydial PID may cause perihepatitis (inflammation around the liver) or “Fitz-Hugh-Curtis Syndrome”, which is an inflammation of the tissue covering the liver. It is associated with pain in the right upper abdomen.
- Untreated chlamydia in pregnant women can cause serious consequences such as preterm delivery (delivery before 37 weeks of pregnancy), ophthalmia neonatorum (conjunctivitis or pink eye of newborn), and pneumonia in newborns.
- Reactive arthritis (joint inflammation) may develop in men and women following chlamydial infection.
- Men have lesser symptoms linked to chlamydia than women. Chlamydia infection can cause urethritis (pain and burning of the place from where urine is passed). The infection may cause epididymitis (swelling of the tube that carries the sperm from the testicles) causing pain and fever. Rarely, chlamydia can cause infertility in men.
- Watery discharge from the tip of the penis, itching or soreness at the penis, and burning sensation while urinating in men should raise the suspicion of chlamydia.
How do you get chlamydia infection?
Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. It is caused by infection with the bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis. The infection is transmitted by having unprotected sex with a person who has chlamydia. It has recently emerged as a cause of outbreaks of proctitis (inflammation of the rectum) among men who have sex with men (MSM). Chlamydia is transmitted by sexual contact with the penis, vagina, mouth, or anus of an infected partner. The transmission does not need ejaculation to occur. The infection can also pass from an untreated mother to her baby during childbirth.
Chlamydia infection can be prevented by using latex male condoms. These condoms, when used consistently and correctly, can reduce the risk of getting or giving chlamydia. The most definitive way to prevent chlamydia is to abstain from vaginal, anal, and oral sex or to be in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested for chlamydia and is known to be uninfected.
What are the symptoms of chlamydia infection?
Symptoms of chlamydia infection often go unnoticed. Some people experience symptoms within a few weeks of exposure (unprotected sex), whereas for others, symptoms may take months to appear. Sometimes, the symptoms disappear on their own, but the infection persists (subclinical chlamydia).
The symptoms include the following:
Symptoms in females
- Vaginal discharge often reported as unusual or foul-smelling
- Dysuria (Pain while urinating)
- Pain in the abdomen or pelvic region
- Dyspareunia (Pain during intercourse)
- Bleeding through the vagina after sex or between periods
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Premature delivery
- Pain the in rectum
- Anal discharge
- Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
- Throat pain or discomfort
Symptoms in males