Chlamydia is one of the most common STD’s and is the leading cause of preventable infertility. If left untreated, Chlamydia may also lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and the risk of ectopic pregnancy in women. Chlamydia is both treatable and preventable.
Chlamydia is caused by bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis. Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI), which means that you get it through having unprotected sex (sex without a condom) with someone who has chlamydia.
Chlamydia is known as a ‘silent’ infection because most infected people have no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they may not appear until several weeks after exposure. Even when it causes no symptoms, chlamydia can damage a woman’s reproductive organs.
In women, the bacteria first infect the cervix (structure that connects the vagina or birth canal to the uterus or womb) and/or the urethra (urine canal). Some infected women have an abnormal vaginal discharge or a burning sensation when urinating. Untreated infections can spread upward to the uterus and fallopian tubes (tubes that carry fertilized eggs from the ovaries to the uterus), causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can be silent, or can cause symptoms such as abdominal and pelvic pain. Even if PID causes no symptoms initially, it can lead to infertility (not being able to get pregnant) and other complications later on.
Some infected men have discharge from their penis or a burning sensation when urinating. Pain and swelling in one or both testicles (known as “epididymitis”) may also occur, but is less common.
Chlamydia can also infect the rectum in men and women, either through receptive anal sex, or possibly via spread from the cervix and vagina. While these infections often cause no symptoms, they can cause rectal pain, discharge, and/or bleeding (known as “proctitis”).
If you have had oral sex with someone who has chlamydia, you may get this infection in your throat, which can lead to painful swallowing, a cough, and a fever.
The initial damage that chlamydia causes often goes unnoticed. However, chlamydial infections can lead to serious health problems.
In women, untreated infection can spread upward to the uterus and fallopian tubes (tubes that carry fertilized eggs from the ovaries to the uterus), causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can be silent, or can cause symptoms such as abdominal and pelvic pain. Both symptomatic and silent PID can cause permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive tract and lead to long-term pelvic pain, inability to get pregnant, and potentially deadly ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus).
In pregnant women, untreated chlamydia has been associated with pre-term delivery, and can spread to the newborn, causing an eye infection or pneumonia.
Complications are rare in men. Infection sometimes spreads to the tube that carries sperm from the testis, causing pain, fever, and, rarely, preventing a man from being able to father children.