Chlamydia is a bacterial sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by Chlamydia trachomatis. Like any other sexually transmitted disease, it is transmitted through unprotected sex and is most common in individuals with high risk sexual behavior. Chlamydia is most of the times left untreated as 80% women and 50% men are asymptomatic after Chlamydia exposure and whatever mild symptoms are experienced are either ignored or confused with other conditions.
The symptoms are usually noted after 2 to 3 weeks of exposure to the bacteria. In women, they present as abnormal vaginal discharge, abnormal bleeding from vagina or rectum, pain during sex, dysuria, pain or itching of the vagina or vulva, pelvic pain and sometimes sore throat. In men, it might present as discharge from penis, pain or burning on urination, swollen testicles, and/or itching, burning, redness, pain or erythema of the head of the penis, rectal pain or bleeding, also might cause sore throat and conjunctivitis.
Chlamydia is usually treated with antibiotics, mainly azithromycin, doxycycline or erythromycin.
What Can Happen If Chlamydia Is Not Treated?
Chlamydia has a greater chance of being left untreated and undetected as it is mostly asymptomatic in most of the individuals; therefore, it is coined as “silent infection”. It can; therefore, lead to the damage of reproductive systems both in women and men.
Untreated Chlamydia in Women
The greatest complication of untreated Chlamydia in women is infertility. It is defined as the inability to get pregnant despite trying to conceive for over a period of one year. Chlamydia is one of the causes of infertility worldwide. If left untreated, Chlamydia can spread to the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries leading to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). It can also cause ectopic pregnancies (implantation of embryo in other places rather than the uterus).
Infertility due to Chlamydia is caused after the spread of infection further into the fallopian tubes that causes blockage of the fallopian tubes, known as hydrosalpinx. Fallopian tubes can also develop scar tissue due to which an egg is unable to travel to the uterus for implantation leading to ectopic pregnancy. The classic symptoms of ectopic pregnancy can be pelvic pain, vaginal bleeding, lightheadedness, positive pregnancy test. A doctor should be immediately contacted when these symptoms are noticed.
The spread of infection to other parts of female reproductive system, particularly to the uterus and fallopian tube may also cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) leading to scarring and blocking of the fallopian tubes. PID also on occasions develops without any symptoms and sometimes can be diagnosed too late which might lead to ectopic pregnancy. There is also a higher chance of miscarriage, preterm birth and still birth due to this.
The treatment of infertility in women due to Chlamydia is simple and that is treatment with antibiotics.
Untreated Chlamydia in Men
Chlamydia can mostly go unnoticed in men as most of them are asymptomatic. The most common symptoms include discharge from the penis, pain on urination and swelling of testicles. Chlamydia also goes undetected in men like in women that might lead to complications in men too. Untreated Chlamydia can cause internal scarring of genitals, low sperm count with decrease in fertile sperms and also can lead to additional health conditions. These can be prevented with antibiotic treatment.
Untreated Chlamydia can lead to infertility in men by interfering with the sperm count and also abnormalities with genetic material. It causes damage to the sperms and causes scarring of the reproductive tract and may lead to permanent infertility. Men infected with Chlamydia have shown sperms with 80% more physical abnormalities and 10% less motility in 10%. Also males infected with Chlamydia are at increased risk of developing rheumatological conditions, conjunctivitis, urethritis (inflammation of the urethra), epididymitis (inflammation of the epididymis) and sexually acquired reactive arthritis (SARA). Reactive arthritis causes inflammation of the joints, eyes and urethra. There is no cure of SARA, but it improves over a period of few months and is symptomatically treated with NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen.
Thus, one should avoid high risk sexual behavior and should follow up regularly with a doctor for STD testing, and if detected positive should complete antibiotic course.
- Chlamydial Urethritis In Men
- Chlamydia Infection: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention
- Chlamydia Trachomatis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, How Does it Spread, Prevention
- What Are The Risks of Untreated Chlamydia?
- Can Chlamydia Go Away On Its Own Without Treatment?
- Long Term Effects of Chlamydia