When talking about the most common STDs in the US, chlamydia frequently gets into the top three. This infection-turned-disease typically affects women. However, men are also susceptible to its symptoms. But even if they are asymptomatic, they become carriers of its causative agent, Chlamydia trachomatis.
Since the infection can be easily overlooked due to mild or absence of symptoms, chlamydia spreads quickly among sexually active individuals, as reported by the CDC.
Furthermore, without regular testing, the infection remains untreated, leading to various health complications like infertility, tissue inflammation, and severe infection – conditions that can have a lasting effect on your physical and mental health, not to mention your financial state.
In the next few lines, you’ll get to find out more about the complications of untreated chlamydia, its prevention, and how to get tested for this STI.
What Is Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is a curable sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterial strain, Chlamydia trachomatis. It can potentially lead to severe permanent damage to a female’s reproductive system along with pain and discomfort for both men and women once left untreated.
Women are more vulnerable to getting chlamydia, as with other STIs, due to the anatomy of their external genitalia, making them more exposed and susceptible to infection. Hence, the CDC highly encourages women aged 15 to 24 to get screening for chlamydia, as cases of the disease continue to rise, according to research.
On the other hand, most men tend to be asymptomatic, which is a factor in the prevalence of the infection.
For example, if they get infected with chlamydia without knowing it, they can easily pass the STI to their sexual partner. However, men can also develop the symptoms of chlamydia, which can lead to complications, including an increased risk for HIV.
At the onset of chlamydia, symptoms are often subtle and mild, making it easier for people to ignore. While most signs and symptoms affect the reproductive organs, you may also experience infections in your eyes (conjunctivitis) and rectum (bleeding, pain, and discharge).
The following are the most common symptoms of chlamydia:
- Pelvic pain
- Painful urination
- Bleeding after sex
- Bleeding between periods
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Abnormal vaginal discharge (yellowish with foul smell)
- Testicular pain
- Burning sensation in the urethra or when urinating
- Milky or watery discharge (with pus) from the penis
Chlamydia is transmitted through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the infection. In some cases, the bacteria get into the eyes if they contact the genital.
As chlamydia gets spread through skin-to-skin contact with the genitals, you become at risk whether ejaculation occurs or not. Nonetheless, skin contact with infected semen could also lead to the infection.
Moreover, chlamydia can be passed from the infected mother to the baby during childbirth. As the newborn passes through the cervical canal, contact with the tissues containing chlamydia occurs.
While chlamydia belongs to the most common STDs in the US, it is preventable through safe sex. You can reduce your risk of getting this infection by practicing the following:
- Using latex condoms
- Abstinence from sex
- Maintaining monogamy
Getting tested for chlamydia also ensures that you don’t pass the infection to others. Likewise, it’s best to learn of your sexual partner’s reproductive health status first before engaging in any sexual activity.
Health Complications of Untreated Chlamydia Infection
Chlamydia can be cured and treated with antibiotics. Although there are reports claiming chlamydia resolves on its own, you should not wait for chlamydia to just go away by itself. Untreated chlamydia can cause severe damage to your reproductive health.
Women have a higher susceptibility to chlamydia than men. Therefore, it’s only fitting for sexually active women to get tested regularly, not just for chlamydia but also for other STIs. This is whether or not they experience symptoms of STD.
Here are some health complications experienced by women with untreated chlamydia.
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Chlamydial infection can reach the upper reproductive organs, including the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and uterus causing inflammation. This leads to tissue scarring and the formation of abscesses, which change the anatomy of the organs, causing problems with fertility.
- Ectopic Pregnancy
Chances of developing ectopic pregnancy increase if you have untreated chlamydia. According to a study by the University of Edinburgh, chlamydia triggers the production of proteins making the fallopian tube more prone to mistake implantation leading to ectopic pregnancy.
The aftermath of a long-term chlamydial infection can deem many women infertile as it changes the physical form of the tissues. As a result, sperm motility can be significantly affected, which makes it more difficult for fertilization to take place.
When men ignore chlamydia, it can lead to problems affecting the testes, prostate gland, and other reproductive organs. Likewise, the infection can trigger other inflammatory conditions and increase the risks of further viral or bacterial invasion.
The epididymis channels the movement of sperm cells from the testes to the urethra. When this process is disrupted, the sperm cell fails to get into the female’s egg cell for fertilization. Therefore, when epididymitis, an inflammation of the epididymis, which can be due to the spread of chlamydia infection, occurs, conception becomes a challenge.
- Prostate Gland Infection
Untreated chlamydia may also lead to prostate gland infection. As a result, it could impact urination and sterility altogether, especially if treatment is not sought.
- Reactive Arthritis
Chlamydia triggers joint pain, specifically reactive arthritis, which usually occurs in the feet, knees, and ankle. It could come and go, usually anywhere between 3 to 12 months, and can even become a chronic problem.
- Chlamydial Urethritis
Untreated chlamydia could lead to urethritis or the inflammation of the urethra, which is the passage for urine and semen carrying the sperm cells—those with this condition experience unusual discharge, along with bloody and painful urination.
- Increased Risk for HIV Infection
Chlamydia exacerbates the risk of human immunodeficiency virus or HIV infection. Studies have supported the direct relationship between the two STDs as many HIV-infected individuals often have chlamydia.
Infected mothers can spread chlamydia to their babies during delivery. When this is the case, the newborn may experience the following conditions.
Babies may develop conjunctivitis 5 to 12 days after childbirth due to chlamydial infection acquired from the walls of the birth canal.
Infants also become susceptible to pneumonia as the bacteria triggers pneumonia infection after 1 to 3 months of childbirth. This can be indicated by repetitive coughing and rapid breathing.
How To Get Tested for Chlamydia?
Taking a test for chlamydia is not complicated at all, given that you can easily order a test online. Although you can also get at-home testing kits for chlamydia via urine test in drugstores, your best chance for accuracy and streamlined treatment is through a laboratory blood test.
On top of that, you can also get an STD test package designed to screen the most common sexually transmitted infections all at once. For example, the 11 panel STD blood test does not just include screening for chlamydia but also gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis, and more.
It may be easy to toss chlamydia around as a mild condition. However, if you completely ignore this infection, leaving it untreated would cost your fertility and overall wellness altogether. Therefore, it’s best to get tested and remain protected by practicing safe sex.