Definition and Overview

Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that affects millions of people around the world. It can be passed on from one person to another through unprotected sex. It commonly affects men and women below 30 years of age especially those who have more than one sexual partner and do not practice safe sex.

The disease responds well to antibiotic treatment if caught and treated early. However, it is often difficult to diagnose during the early stages because most patients do not present with symptoms. This is a cause for concern because the disease can lead to serious complications when it spreads to the reproductive system. In most severe cases, it can compromise a woman’s ability to get pregnant.

Other than through sexual intercourse, a mother can also pass on the disease to her baby during childbirth. Infants with chlamydia often suffer from lung and eye problems.

Because chlamydia can be difficult to diagnose during the early stages, doctors encourage those at risk to get tested at least once a year. Patients have the option to take the test at home. Home test kits approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) are now widely available. A person who has been exposed to the infection can take the test at home and send the sample to a laboratory. The lab results are often sent back within a week.

Causes of Condition

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), chlamydia is the most frequently reported bacterial STD in the United States. It is 50 times more common than syphilis and three times more common than gonorrhea.

There are two ways in which a person can get infected with chlamydia. First is by having unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal sex. The bacteria can infect the penis, vagina, urethra, cervix, anus, throat, and eyes. Second, an infected mother can pass it on to her child while giving birth. Infected babies are at risk of eye infection and pneumonia.

People at most risk are those who are sexually active, have more than one sexual partner, and do not use condoms and other protection during sex.

Contrary to what other people believe, it cannot be transmitted by:

  • Sharing a sauna and swimming pool with infected individuals

  • Using utensils used by an infected person

  • Touching a surface that an infected person has touched or sneezed on

Key Symptoms

Many people with the disease do not show symptoms. This is the reason why it is often called the “silent STD.” Some, on the other hand, experience the following:

  • Abnormal bleeding

  • Abnormal vaginal or penile discharge

  • Fever

  • Nausea

  • Pain in the lower abdomen

  • Pain when urinating and during sex

  • Rectal pain

  • Swollen cervix

Who to See and Types of Treatments Available

Just like other types of infections, it is better to prevent the disease from occurring rather than curing it. To do this, sexually active people must:

  • Practice safe sex. Safer sex helps people stay healthy. It can even improve one’s sexual experience. The best way to practice safe sex is to consistently use a condom that acts as a barrier against body fluids that can spread STDs.

  • Discuss sexual health with one’s partner. Many people with STDs do not realise that they have them. Thus, for some people, it is beneficial to discuss the topic with their sexual partner. Often, this leads to getting them to get tested.

  • Learn how to use condoms the proper way.

  • If at all possible, abstain from having any form of sex.

  • Get tested for STDs. It is important for sexually active people to get tested for STDs at least once a year.

People showing signs and symptoms mentioned above can consult a general practitioner (GP) or family doctor. Women can also consult their gynaecologist. Most STDs are diagnosed with a simple swab test, wherein a sample liquid taken from the rectum, vagina, penis or mouth is tested in a laboratory. A standard urine test is also commonly done.

The disease responds very well to antibiotics. Many patients are able to fully recover from their condition a week after their antibiotic therapy. It is important for patients not to have sex until the infection has cleared up.

References:

  • Stevenson, Angus (2010). Oxford dictionary of English. (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 306. ISBN 9780199571123

  • “STD Facts - Chlamydia” Center For Disease Control

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