What is chlamydia and how common is it?
When the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis is transmitted in men or women, it can wreak havoc. What�s alarming is despite the symptoms being usually mild or absent, the disease can cause irreversible damage, before the problem is ever recognized.
The bad news is Chlamydia is the most frequently occurring disease in the US with an estimated 2.8 million becoming its victim each year. This disease frequently recurs in women whose sex partners are not treated. (1)
Transmission of Chlamydia
Chlamydia is transmitted during sex, whether it�s vaginal, anal or oral. Of course, more the sex partners, the greater the risk. And sexually active teenage girls and young women are more at risk because the cervix, the opening to the uterus, is not fully matured. Even gay males are vulnerable, because this infection can be passed through anal sex. An infected mother can also pass it to her baby during vaginal childbirth.
Symptoms of Chlamydia
Chlamydia is almost without symptoms and is known as a �silent� disease. About three quarters of infected women and about half of infected men show no symptoms. If they do appear, they do so within 1 to 3 weeks after exposure.
In women, when the bacteria initially infect the cervix and the urethra, the urine canal, they may just have an abnormal vaginal discharge or a burning sensation when urinating. Even when the infection spreads from the cervix to the fallopian tubes, the tubes that carry eggs from the ovaries to the uterus, there are still no signs or symptoms. However, it may be accompanied by lower abdominal pain, low back pain, nausea, fever, pain during intercourse or extra bleeding between menstrual periods. This infection can spread to the rectum from the cervix.
In men, the symptoms may include discharge from the penis or burning sensation while urinating. They may also have burning and itching around the opening of the penis. However, pain and swelling in the testicles are uncommon. An infected rectum can cause rectal pain, discharge or bleeding. Oral sex can introduce Chlamydia to the throat.
Complications of not treating Chlamydia
If left untreated, this infection can pose serious reproductive and other health problems with both short-term and long-term consequences. The bad news is, like the disease itself, the damage caused is also often �silent�.
In 40% women, this untreated infection can spread into the uterus or fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which in turn, can cause permanent damage to them and the surrounding tissues. This damage usually leads to chronic pelvic pain, infertility and potentially fatal ectopic pregnancy, that is, pregnancy outside the uterus.
Sexually active women, 25 years or younger, would do well to get themselves screened at least annually to prevent the serious consequences of Chlamydia. Even older women with a new or multiple sex partners should go in for annual screening. And it�s a must for all pregnant women, as the health of the baby is at stake.
In men, the complications are rare. Infection can sometimes spread to the epididymis, the tube carrying sperm from the testis. This may result in pain, fever and, rarely, sterility. This infection can cause arthritis accompanied by skin lesions and inflammation of the eye and urethra (Reiter's syndrome), but this is rare.
Diagnosis and treatment of Chlamydia
Chlamydia is diagnosed by examining urine sample or material collected from the penis or cervix in a laboratory. The good news is this infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, like azithromycin or doxycycline. Even HIV-positive persons can use this treatment.
Chlamydia is a disease that is rampant in sexually active men and women. So, either go steady with a single partner or remain alert, if you take on a new or multiple partners.