A lot of us don't realize that some sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can cause no symptoms, meaning you could have an STD and not know it. And some STDs can silently lead to infertility, ectopic pregnancy, or chronic pelvic pain.
Chlamydia is one of those diseases. CDC estimates that more than 2.8 million people are infected each year.
Chlamydia is most common in sexually active young adults. More than half of all infections involve people ages 18 to 24. You can get chlamydia during oral, vaginal, or anal sexual contact with an infected partner. The disease can cause penile discharge in men and infertility in women. It can also cause serious health problems in newborn babies of infected mothers.
Many women, and some men, are infected with chlamydia but don't know it. Even without symptoms, the disease can cause complications, particularly infertility. The longer the infection is untreated, the more damage that can be done.
If symptoms do show up, they usually occur within weeks of exposure. Men and women may face painful urination, an abnormal discharge from the urethra, or both. Women also may have abdominal pain, bleeding, and an abnormal discharge from the vagina. Symptoms usually appear within one to three weeks after being infected and may be very mild.
If not treated, chlamydia can lead to damage to the reproductive system. In women, chlamydial infection can spread to the uterus or fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), according to the CDC. PID can damage the fallopian tubes and uterus and cause chronic pain, infertility, and ectopic pregnancy. Women who have chlamydia also are at much greater risk for becoming infected with HIV. In men, complications from chlamydia are rare.
In pregnant women, chlamydia can cause premature delivery, the CDC says. A child born to an infected woman can develop an infection in their eyes and respiratory tracts.
Chlamydia can be confused with gonorrhea, another STD, because they have similar symptoms. A lab test is the best way to confirm if you have chlamydia. In the most common test, a health care provider takes a sample of fluid from the vagina or penis and has the sample analyzed. The other method analyzes a urine sample.
Antibiotics are the usual treatment for chlamydia. If you are given an antibiotic, it's important to take the entire dose prescribed even if symptoms disappear. If symptoms don't disappear in one to two weeks after you finish taking the antibiotic, see your health care provider. You should abstain from sexual intercourse while you are being treated for the infection, and for up to seven days after a single dose of antibiotics, or after completing a seven-day course of antibiotics. This will prevent you from infecting your partner.
You should tell your sexual partners that you have chlamydia so they can be tested. If you are a woman and aren't sure your partner has been treated for chlamydia, you should get retested for the infection three to four months after your treatment. Retesting after several months is a good idea even if you are sure that your partner has been treated.
The CDC recommends that all sexually active women 25 and younger be screened at least every year for chlamydia. Women older than 25 who have multiple sex partners or a new sex partner should also be screened every year. Pregnant women should be screened, as well.
Practicing safer sex can reduce your risk of getting chlamydia in the first place. The best way for sexually active people to avoid chlamydia is to use a condom and maintain mutually monogamous sexual partners.