The Silent STI: What You Need to Know About Chlamydia
Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by bacteria called chlamydia trachomatis. Chlamydia is the most frequently reported bacterial STD in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is known as a "silent" disease because it very rarely causes symptoms.
If not treated, however, chlamydia can cause serious health problems for both men and women. Chlamydia can be passed from one person to another through oral, vaginal or anal sex with an infected partner. You can get infected with chlamydia again even after treatment if your sexual partners are infected and not treated. Therefore it is important to make sure your partner gets checked as well if you become infected. Chlamydia is common in high school and college-age women, but less common in middle-aged and older women. The CDC says this is because women in their 30s and older usually have settled down with one partner.
About three-quarters of infected women and about one half of infected men have no symptoms, the CDC says. If symptoms do occur, they usually are noticed about one to three weeks after you become infected.
In women, the bacteria first infect the cervix (the lower part of the womb) and the urethra (the tube where the urine leaves the body). Symptoms can include vaginal discharge that is different in color or having a strange odor, bleeding during sex or between periods, burning or pain while peeing, pain during sex, or lower back or tummy pain. Men also may have pain while peeing, or they may notice a burning and itching around his penis, or fluid from coming the penis. Men with Chlamydia infection may also notice pain and swelling in the testicles (the sacks that hang from below the penis).
The infection may move inside the body if it is not treated and can cause very serious illness. In women, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which is a serious infection of a woman's sex organs. OID can cause a woman to have trouble getting pregnant. In men, it can cause epididymitis, which is a problem with the tube that carries the sperm from the testicles to outside the body. Both of these illnesses can lead to trouble starting and completing a pregnancy.
Chlamydia can cause irritation of the rectum from anal sex. It can also cause irritation of the lining of the eye ("pinkeye") in a newborn baby if the bacteria is present in the mother during birth. It can also cause a throat infection from oral sex with an infected partner.
If you notice any of the above symptoms, please contact your doctor.
Current guidelines recommend that all sexually active women younger than 25 be checked every year for chlamydia. Some women who are older than 25 should be checked depending on their sexual history, symptoms, and number of sexual partners (the more partners you have, the more likely you are to be infected). Your health care provider will first check for chlamydia during a pelvic exam (where they will check for problems of the vagina). In men, a swab (like a Q-tip) test or a urine test is done to check for chlamydia. If you are infected with chlamydia trachomatis, your doctor will give you a prescription for an antibiotic. A pregnant woman also can be treated for a chlamydia infection with antibiotics. chlamydia can be treated with a single dose of an antibiotic called Azithromycin or with a week of Doxycycline. Doxycycline should not be used in pregnant women. Unfortunately, chlamydia can return within a few months after treatment. Because of this, you should be checked again after your treatment is finished.
Infected men and women who have no symptoms may pass the bacteria on to their sex partners without knowing it, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH recommends that if you have more than 1 sex partner, and especially if you are a woman younger than 25, you should be tested for chlamydia regularly, even if you have no symptoms. Getting a regular checkup is one of the main ways you can keep from having serious problems from chlamydia.
To protect yourself from getting chlamydia, experts recommend that you:
- Always use male latex condoms correctly during vaginal, anal and oral sex.
- Don't have unprotected sex unless you and your partner have had STD testing.
- Find out whether your partner has ever had any sexual diseases in the past.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health
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