Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can affect both men and women, however, it is common for it to cause a more severe illness in women. As the name implies, these diseases are transmitted mainly through coitus, but you can also acquire STI through oral or anal sex. Some common STIs are syphilis, chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhea, HIV, HPV, and trichomoniasis. We will be looking at chlamydia infection in this article and what happens if it is left untreated.
What is Chlamydia infection?
The etiology of chlamydia is a gram-negative bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis. Although it can affect both men and women, young women with multiple sex partners are considered at high risk for this type of infection. This STI is highly contagious and can easily spread through sexual contact with an infected partner. Chlamydia infection usually goes unnoticed as many people are asymptomatic, but its clinical presentation can include :
- Burning sensation during micturition – Patients usually present with recurrent urinary tract infections
- Mucopurulent discharge – either through the vagina, penis, urethra, or rectum
- Itchiness in the groin area
- Intermenstrual bleeding
- Injected conjunctivae with mucopurulent discharge in pregnant women
How is Chlamydia treated?
The treatment for chlamydia is fairly simple. A one-week course of antibiotics is usually sufficient to treat an uncomplicated chlamydia infection. The recommended antibiotics are doxycycline and azithromycin but alternatives include erythromycin, levofloxacin, and ofloxacin. In addition to that, patients are advised to refrain from all sexual contact until their infection is cleared. Contact tracing is also an active part of management to prevent the further spreading of infections.
What happens if Chlamydia is left untreated?
Complications from chlamydia infection occur when the infection is left untreated or partially treated. This can happen when a patient is non-compliant to antibiotic therapy or if they don’t even realise they are infected. Either way, untreated chlamydia infection can give a lasting impact on your quality of life.
For women, the commonest complication is pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which results from the spreading of chlamydia to the uterus and fallopian tubes from the vagina. PID presents with symptoms of lower abdominal pain that are described as dull and crampy followed by abnormal uterine bleeding, vaginal discharge, and fever in severe cases. Untreated chlamydia can further cause infertility, chronic pelvic pain, and ectopic pregnancies following PID. Women with chlamydial infection are also known to be at a higher risk for cervical cancer and HIV due to increased genital mucosal inflammation.
Chlamydia infection during pregnancy can complicate the normal progression of pregnancy. It can cause miscarriage, premature rupture of membranes, and preterm labor on top of tubal pregnancies. Pregnant mothers can also pass on this infection to their newborns during labor. When this happens, newborns often develop chlamydial pneumonia or chlamydial conjunctivitis presenting as early as 1 week after birth.
For men, this infection may not be as severe as it is for women, but untreated chlamydia infection can lead to sterility if the infection spreads to the sperm duct (epididymitis). It can also cause urethral infection that can possibly cause scarring.
Rarer complications that have been associated with chlamydia infection are Reiter’s Syndrome (presenting as urethritis, conjunctivitis, and reactive arthritis), and Fitz-Hugh-Curtis Syndrome (perihepatitis).
What can I do to prevent the spread of Chlamydia infection?
Follow these steps to prevent the spread of Chlamydia infection :
- Avoid having multiple sexual partners.
- Practice safe sex by using barrier protection such as male and female condoms if you are sexually active.
- Go for regular STI screening if you are sexually active.
- If you are infected, refrain from any sexual contact until the infection has been cleared up. It is also important to complete antibiotic therapy.
- Notify your sexual partner(s) so that they can be treated as well.