A bacterium called chlamydia trachomatis causes chlamydia. This infection has become the most common cause of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in the Western world. Chlamydia infection may be symptom less in women the whole time that it is causing damage, but there may be some tell-tale signs. Women with chlamydia may be some increased or altered vaginal discharge and get a cervical infection that can spread up into the rest of the pelvic organs.
Factors that make some women more likely to have a chlamydia infection are as follows:
- being sexually active and younger than 20 years old
- having a low socioeconomic status
- not using barrier methods of contraception, such as condoms
- having more than one sexual partner
- using oral contraceptives
- having sex with a partner who previously has had a sexually transmitted disease
- having sex with a male who has a chlamydia infection of the urinary tract
Symptoms of Chlamydia
Women who are infected with chlamydia often have no symptoms or only very vague ones. That is why women often do not realize they have had the disease for a long time, sometimes years. But you are infectious and can transmit the disease unknowingly. When symptoms do appear in women with this disease they may be mild and include a yellowish vaginal discharge; painful or frequent urination; burning or itching of the vaginal area; redness, swelling, or soreness of the vulva; painful sex; and abnormal bleeding.
Diagnosis of chlamydia is made through self-observation, medical history, and physical examination which includes taking a sample of cervical tissue with a cotton swab and sending it to a laboratory for diagnosis. Researchers are working on the development of a urine test which will make screening for this disease more accessible. A blood test is usually done to find out whether there is also a syphilis infection.
Sexual partners within the last sixty days must also be screened whenever chlamydia is diagnosed.
After a course of antibiotics has been taken successfully, the healthcare provider may repeat the culture of material from the infected area. If the test is positive, it usually means re-infection has occurred. This is particularly likely if a sexual partner has not been treated or did not complete treatment.
The effects on your Fertility
Chlamydia can influence a woman’s ability to conceive in two ways: it can lead to PID, which can cause infertility by damaging the Fallopian tubes, and / or result in cervicitis , which can lead to temporary infertility by affecting the cervical mucus. The main danger for men with chlamydia, however, is that is they will pass it on to their partners, who then may develop PID.
If you have a chlamydia infection and are planning a pregnancy, make sure you are treated before you conceive – a pregnant woman who has chlamydia can pass it on to her baby during birth, and the baby can suffer severe conjunctivitis and lung infections as a result.
Chlamydia is treated with the antibiotic erthromycine. Most people do not become immune to chlamydia so it is quite possible to become re-infected with the disease by another sexual partner. Because tests for chlamydia are not 100-percent foolproof, partners should always be treated for the infection, even if their own screening test appears negative.
Sometimes a combination of antibiotics is used for 7 to 10 days. The antibiotics include:
- Azithromycin ()
According to the 1998 Guidelines for Sexually Transmitted Diseases from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the recommended treatment for chlamydia is either azithromycin 1 gram orally as a single dose or doxcycline 100 mg orally twice a day for seven days.
Possible consequences if chlamydia is left untreated?
Chlamydia infections in females are strongly associated with the development of cervical dysplasia, or abnormal cells in the cervix, and cancer of the cervix.
It is important to treat chlamydia infections to prevent scarring of the fallopian tubes, which connect the ovaries to the uterus. Severe or untreated chlamydia infections can cause serious complications such as the following:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID, which involves a widespread infection of pelvic organs
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Pelvic adhesions, or bands of tissue that cause scarring
- Infertility, or the inability to conceive a child
- Ectopic pregnancy, in which the fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus
- Premature labor and premature delivery, if a woman is infected during pregnancy
- Postpartum endometritis, an infection of the uterine lining that occurs after a woman has given birth
- Proctitis, or rectal infection
- Pregnant women who are unaware of a chlamydial infection run the risk of infecting their infants during birth and are at increased risk for premature labor. Chlamydia in newborns can cause conjunctivitis (eye infection) and pneumonia. Because of this risk, screening for chlamydia is recommended for all pregnant women.
Prevention of the infection
Several safer sex practices can help prevent the spread of chlamydia infection.
- Male condoms and female condoms provide some protection.
- Single partner relationships are safer than sexual interaction with multiple partners.
- Any new partners should be asked about their sexual history and should be tested for sexually transmitted disease. Sexual should be postponed until the tests show no infection in the partner.
- Finally, a screening for chlamydia can be done in combination with a routine annual Pap smear and pelvic exam.
Being screened for chlamydia every year, or any time there is a new sexual partner, is a good practice. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.