Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States, according to the National Chlamydia Coalition. Around 3 million Americans contract chlamydia each year. Most of these people are between the ages of 15 and 24 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Most people with chlamydia have no symptoms, according to the CDC. If you do have symptoms, they might not appear for weeks after sex with an infected partner. If you have more than one partner, it can be difficult to know who might have passed it to you, which is why it is important to let all your sexual partners know if you are diagnosed with chlamydia.
Symptoms in women:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Burning sensation when urinating
- Abdominal pain
- Pain during sex
- Bleeding after sex
Symptoms in men:
- Discharge from the penis
- Burning sensation when urinating
- Pain or swelling in testicles
If you have chlamydia in the rectum, you might experience rectal pain, discharge, bleeding.
Left untreated, chlamydia can cause permanent health problems, according to the National Chlamydia Coalition, such as the following:
- In women, it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, pelvic pain, permanent damage to reproductive system, inability to get pregnant, cystitis (inflammation of the bladder.) One study found that women who had chlamydia were at a higher risk of an ectopic pregnancy.
- In men, untreated chlamydia can lead to infection of prostate gland, including pain and fever, scarring of urethra, and infertility.
Who is at risk?
Anyone who is sexually active is at risk of getting chlamydia. It is carried in semen and vaginal fluids and can be passed through vaginal, anal, and oral sex, the CDC says. You cannot get chlamydia from kissing, hugging, holding hands, coughing, sharing food or drinks, or sitting on a toilet.
You can get chlamydia infections in the vagina, penis, or rectum. It can also cause infections of the throat and eye. Chlamydia is common in both men and women, although women are at greater risk than men.
People who have an increased risk of getting chlamydia include:
- Those with numerous sex partners
- Those who have syphilis, gonorrhea, or HIV
Having chlamydia once doesn’t make you immune to the bacteria. You can get this STI more than once.
Women who are pregnant and have chlamydia can pass it to their child during delivery. It can also cause you to prematurely give birth. If you have had unprotected sex and are pregnant, it is a good idea to get tested, according to the CDC.
Prevention and treatment
The only absolute way to prevent STIs is abstinence. This includes abstaining from vaginal, oral and anal sex. You can reduce your risk of developing chlamydia and other STIs by using a condom every time you have sex and limiting your sexual partners.
Chlamydia can be cured with antibiotics. A doctor must prescribe these medications, and it is important to take them as directed.
Because many people do not have any symptoms, screenings are often the only way to know if you have an infection. If you are sexually active, you should have STI screenings on a regular basis so that you can be treated immediately if you do have an infection. If you receive a positive diagnosis, you should notify all of your sexual partners to let them know and give them the opportunity to be tested and treated as well.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.