Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that affects the genitals and urinary tract. It spreads very easily through sexual contact and is a very common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. It occurs most frequently in teenagers and young adults. Although Chlamydia is easily detected and can be cured with antibiotics, it continues to cause many cases of infertility in women who are unaware they have contracted the disease until years later.
Not everyone who contracts chlamydia experiences noticeable symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they are often quite mild and may be attributed to a common urinary tract infection rather than a sexually transmitted disease. Symptoms of chlamydia can include pain when urinating, discharge from the penis or vagina, testicular pain and pain in the lower abdomen.
Chlamydia can be diagnosed by taking a swab from the cervix in women or the urethra in men. This test can be a little uncomfortable but is not usually painful. Because symptoms are often mild, when they occur at all, these tests are often performed routinely, especially on people who are not in an exclusive, long-term relationship. A urine test to detect the presence of chlamydia is also available, although the results are not as accurate.
Chlamydia, when untreated, can lead to several serious complications. The most common of these is infertility in women. Chlamydial infection can spread to the fallopian tubes, where it causes scarring and prevents future pregnancies. Chlamydia can also be spread to the eyes, in which case it can eventually cause blindness. Babies born to mothers who have chlamydia can become infected when they are born; infection in newborns usually affects the eyes or lungs, where it can lead to blindness or pneumonia, respectively.
Consistent use of condoms is very effective in preventing chlamydia, but the disease can still be contracted if a condom breaks or leaks. Treatment for chlamydia consists of a short course of antibiotics, generally for no more than 10 days. Antibiotics that are effective against chlamydia include doxycycline, erthromycin and azithromycin. Any recent sexual partners of the affected person should be treated as well, regardless of whether they have symptoms of chlamydia.
Chlamydia infection may last indefinitely if it is not treated. It is usually cured within one to two weeks after antibiotics are started. During this time period, the infection can be transmitted, so sexual activity should be avoided. Although the infection itself is easily cured, antibiotic treatment will not reverse damage to the reproductive organs that has already occurred.