Updated 15 August 2022 | Approved By Dr. Umberto Russo
What is Chlamydia?Chlamydia is one of Australia's most common sexually transmitted infections (STI). The infection is caused by chlamydia trachomatis, a type of bacteria transferred during sexual activity. It is easily transmissible as many people with this STI may experience no immediate symptoms. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, there were recently 100,000 Australians infected with chlamydia . This is the leading cause of STIs, especially in individuals between 20-24. Over a decade, the rates of chlamydia have doubled in men.
Chlamydia SymptomsDue to the sexually transmissible nature of chlamydia, symptoms typically develop in the genital regions. Depending on the location of the infection, it may also lead to symptoms in other areas of the body. However, only 75% of women and 50% of men with chlamydia infections have symptoms during diagnosis . Chlamydia is often known as the 'silent' STI because of its asymptomatic nature. Symptoms of chlamydia can be specific to certain biological sexes, while others are more universal. Examples of common symptoms include:
- Cervicitis - Inflammation of the cervix (located behind the vagina) can lead to bleeding, pain during sex and/or unusual discharge from the vagina.
- Dysuria - Pain and/or stinging sensations felt along the penis when urinating.
- Urethritis - Inflammation of the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body) is particularly common in men and leads to discharge from the body.
- Conjunctivitis (also known as pink eye)
- Pain when ejaculating
- Pain in the testicles
- Pain experienced through the anus
- Discharge from the anus
- Lower back pain
How Do You Get Chlamydia?Chlamydia can be transmitted through both sexual and non-sexual activities. Many people contract the infection by engaging in sexual activity with someone who has chlamydia. This is possible through vaginal, anal and oral sex, even if your partner does not ejaculate . Pregnant mothers with chlamydia can also pass on the infection to their babies. This can lead to a range of problems for the child, including eye infections and breathing difficulties . Having chlamydia can also lead to issues for the mother, including early delivery and ectopic pregnancies.
Can you get chlamydia from oral sex?Yes. This is a commonly asked question. Although it is not as common as transmission from anal or vaginal sex, it is still possible.
Tests and DiagnosisSexually active individuals openly talk and discuss getting checked for STIs with their GPs. Topics such as condom use, sexuality and the number of sexual partners may be discussed. Most GPs will recommend testing for STIs for sexually active people under 30 . Pregnant people and gay or bisexual men may require more regular testing. Typically a swab of the affected region will be taken for laboratory testing . These tests can be performed routinely or if there are any signs of chlamydia. After treatment, your GP may ask you to undergo further STI testing to ensure that the treatment is successful. Those who have tested positive should notify their sexual partners within the last 3-6 months. Most GPs also recommend testing for these individuals.
Safe Sexual PracticesPractising safe sexual activities is the best form of treatment for chlamydia. Prevention is always better than cure. Besides abstinence (i.e. not engaging in any sexual activity), some ways of reducing the risk of STIs include :
- Using condoms and/or dental correctly during all sexual activities
- Being sexually active in a monogamous (i.e. single partner) relationship with someone who has tested negative for STIs
- Getting regularly tested for STIs
- Holding honest and open discussions about your sexual health with your GP
MedicationDoctors routinely prescribe antibiotics for chlamydia to help clear up your infection. Always take your medications as instructed by your GP and/or pharmacist. Your GP may also advise you not to engage in sexual activity until finishing your medication.
Recovery - Is Chlamydia Curable?With proper treatment, chlamydia is curable. Research has suggested that antibiotic medications are 95% effective for treating the infection . All of the antibiotic medications need to be completely taken. Treatment is most effective during the early stages of the infection. However, the treatment can not reverse any permanent damage or completely prevent re-infection (especially if safe sexual practices are not being followed).
ComplicationsThere are several complications of chlamydia if it isn't being managed appropriately.
In WomenWomen infected with chlamydia can develop pelvic inflammatory disease, a condition where the bacterial infection from the vagina spreads to the uterus, ovaries and/r fallopian tubes in women. Pelvic inflammatory disease can lead to long term health problems, such as difficulty getting pregnant, pain and a higher risk of getting an ectopic pregnancy (where the fertilised egg is located outside the womb) .
During PregnancyPregnant women with chlamydia can also experience complications, including :
- Transmitting the infection to the baby in the form of eye and lung problems (e.g. pink eye, pneumonia, etc.)
- Premature delivery
- Having a child with low birth weight
In MenIf not managed properly, men with chlamydia can develop complications, such as prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate) and epididymitis (inflammation of the epididymis) . These inflammatory reactions can lead to pain, discomfort during ejaculation and bladder problems. In about 1% of cases, infected men may also develop reactive arthritis, which leads to pain and swelling in the joints.
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- Mohseni M, Sung S, Takov V. Chlamydia. [Updated 2022 Apr 30]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537286/