We have all been there. You start experiencing embarrassing symptoms and you’re wishing they go away without having to see anyone. Whether it’s a urinary tract infection (UTI), erectile dysfunction or any other intimate issue, when it comes to getting these conditions diagnosed, it can fill many with dread.
These feelings are particularly true when it comes to chlamydia. There’s a lot of guilt and shame surrounding contracting chlamydia, and people feel embarrassed speaking about their sexual health and sexual activity. One study found that 1 in every 8 sexually active teenagers would not get tested because of the worry their parents would find out. This is a especially worrying statistic as women this age are most at risk, with an estimated 1 in 20 women aged between 14 - 24 having chlamydia. In addition, chlamydia is often symptomless and people don’t realise they have it until weeks after contracting it, meaning it is critically underdiagnosed.
Chlamydia rarely goes away by itself. In fact, it can cause some serious health problems if left untreated in both men and women. Thankfully, chlamydia is curable! All you need is a short course of antibiotics. So the sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner you lower the risk of complications. Keep reading to find out about what happens if chlamydia is left untreated, how you can get tested and how you can treat it.
Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections worldwide. It is contracted via unprotected sex (including anal sex and oral sex) and any sexual contact. Symptoms of any STI vary from person-to-person, so it’s impossible to diagnose it from symptoms alone. However, symptoms of chlamydia may include:
However, like many sexually transmitted diseases including gonorrhoea and genital herpes, chlamydia often has no symptoms. That’s why many people have the bacteria without realising it. In addition, chlamydia symptoms can appear like other bacterial infections such as thrush, cystitis and bacterial vaginosis. For both reasons, it’s important you get tested by a healthcare professional.
Unfortunately, chlamydia rarely goes away by itself. It is estimated that in around 20% of cases, chlamydia resolves itself without treatment. This means that the body’s immune system has controlled the bacterial infection on its own. However, this is incredibly rare and most people will need treatment to kill the bacteria.
Symptoms may come and go which may look as if the infection cleared, but it is highly likely that the bacteria chlamydia trachomatis is still present in your body. This means you are at a higher risk of reinfection. Whether you have symptoms or not, you can still spread the bacteria through sexual intercourse, you can still develop complications and means you should definitely get tested for chlamydia if you have symptoms or have been in contact with it.
As chlamydia often remains asymptomatic, one of the serious dangers of leaving chlamydia untreated is spreading the bacteria. In fact, experts have estimated that up to 95% cases of chlamydia remain untreated because people experience no symptoms, which means there is a much higher risk of infections than other more visible STIs.
Chlamydia is incredibly contagious and is easily spread through unprotected sexual intercourse, including both anal sex and oral sex. You can also contract chlamydia in the mouth from oral sex, known as pharyngeal chlamydia. Chlamydia is also spready through any sexual contact including contact with any seminal or vaginal fluids, sharing unwashed or uncovered sex toys as well as through any genital-to-genital contact. This doesn’t include kissing, sharing towels or through toilet seats.
The likelihood of transmitting chlamydia from one single act of intercourse is still relatively high, at around 30%. This is why prevention, regular screening and treatment are very important in reducing the spread. In addition, barrier contraception (condoms) are 99% effective at preventing chlamydia transmission.
Not only does the bacteria rarely leave your body on its own, but it can also cause serious complications if not treated. These complications are usually caused by the bacteria spreading to other parts of the body, predominantly the genitourinary and reproductive organs including the urethra, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. One of the most common complications of untreated chlamydia in women is pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which develops in 10-15% of women. This is where the bacteria spreads to the womb and fallopian tubes, causing them damage and scarring over time. Untreated chlamydia can also result in ectopic pregnancies, inflammation of the testicles and epididymis (epididymitis) as well as sexually acquired reactive arthritis (SARA). It can also harm the unborn baby if left untreated in pregnant women, such as infections in the baby like pneumonia and conjunctivitis (eye infection) and can result in premature labour.
Chlamydia can also cause infertility. In women, this is typically due to the damage caused by the bacteria damaging the reproductive organs (from PID or ectopic pregnancies). Contrary to myth, chlamydia has been linked infertility in men. Research has found that chlamydia alters the DNA in sperm which affects their ability. The same study also found that chlamydia leads to malformed and immobile sperm. More recent research has found C.trachomatis bacteria in biopsies of testes of infertile men
The first step to preventing these complications is getting tested. You should get tested as soon as you notice any symptoms, so you can prevent spreading the condition as well as treat it as soon as possible. You should also get tested if you have a new partner.
The easiest way to get tested for chlamydia is to go to a sexual health clinic. These are free clinics that are confidential, and won’t inform your GP unless you want them to. If you’re worried about going somewhere in person, there are many remote testing options available for free and from private health providers. You do the test yourself and post it off to a lab.
A chlamydia test usually involves a urine or swab test. Men will only have to conduct a urine sample, whilst women can do either a urine or swab test. A swab test involves using a small cotton bud and gently wiping the infected area, which you are often able to do yourself. A urine test will involve you urinating into a small container.
Both of these tests are then sent to a laboratory to check for traces of the chlamydia trachomatis bacteria, or any other STD that could be causing your symptoms. You will usually get your test results within 7 - 10 days.
Chlamydia treatment is simple, and uncomfortable symptoms will disappear days within your course of treatment but you must continue the full course to prevent reinfection. Doxycycline and Azithromycin are antibiotics that are commonly prescribed for chlamydia. You should also practice safer sex with any new partners, such as use barrier protection, to prevent contracting STIs.
If you feel uncomfortable seeing your doctor but are worried you have chlamydia symptoms, you can get prescription treatment confidentially and discreetly online at euroClinix. The online consultation takes minutes and treatment will be delivered to you the very next day.
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