With more than 200.000 new cases diagnosed every year, chlamydia is without doubt the single most common sexually transmitted infection within the UK. This condition is often asymptomatic in a significant portion of those affected – around 50% of men and up to 80% of women can have chlamydia without even knowing it, which makes STI testing all the more important if you are sexually active and practice unprotected sex.
If the condition is diagnosed early and treated properly on time, the infection can be easily cured without any long-term adverse effects on an individual’s health and wellbeing. However, if the condition is left untreated, chlamydia can cause serious health issues and complications. In this article, we will explore various complications that can arise from untreated chlamydia.
In women, these include:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Pregnancy complications
In men, on the other hand, chlamydia has been known to lead to:
- Inflammation of the testicles (epididymitis)
- Reactive arthritis
What’s on this page:
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and chlamydia
Pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID as it is often called, is a relatively common condition that affects women. The root cause of this condition is the movement of bacteria from the vagina and cervix the upper genital tract. This means that we can consider various bacterial STIs such as chlamydia the main risk factors for the onset of this condition.
PID can cause an array of uncomfortable symptoms:
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Discomfort during sex and urination
- Intensive menstrual periods
- Presence of bleeding between periods
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- General malaise
- Nausea and vomiting
According to numerous studies, around 10 to 15% of women affected by chlamydia will develop PID within 12 months if they don’t seek timely treatment for their condition. Some scientists also speculate that untreated STIs that result in PID can also cause various fertility problems.
The effects of chlamydia on pregnancy
One very high-risk group certainly is expecting mothers with untreated chlamydia. In this scenario, there is a significant risk of the condition being transmitted to the baby, especially during the childbirth. If it occurs, the baby might be affected by health conditions such as conjunctivitis and pneumonia.
In addition to this, untreated chlamydia can also be directly linked to premature birth and all the health complications that arise from it.
However, even during pregnancy, chlamydia can be effectively treated with antibiotics. But, in this case, the doctor will probably recommend some other variety of antibiotics, since the most commonly used ones (such Azithromycin) are not as suitable for use during pregnancy.
Chlamydia and testicle inflammation (epididymitis)
This very uncomfortable condition occurs when the bacteria manage to find their way to the testicles and epididymis (a number of small tubes within the testicles through which sperm is transported). If untreated, this condition can cause permanent infertility. The common symptoms of epididymitis include:
- Pain and over-sensitivity of the testicles
- Swelling of the testicles due to a build-up of fluids
- Presence of penile discharge
There are numerous factors that can contribute to the development of epididymitis, with STI and, more specifically, chlamydia being just one of them. The usual treatment for this condition is, as can be expected, antibiotic medicines, but in some cases NSAIDs and other painkillers might be necessary due to extremely uncomfortable and very painful nature of this condition.
Reactive arthritis is a medical condition that can affect multiple areas of the body, most notably joints, eyes and the urethra. The tell-tale signs of this condition include pain, inflammation, swelling or stiffness of the affected bodily part, depending on where the symptoms are localized. When caused by chlamydia, reactive arthritis is most likely to cause swelling, stiffness and pain in the joints, eye redness and discomfort (sometimes mistaken for conjunctivitis) and pain while urinating. If the condition is left untreated, other symptoms may follow, including:
- Uncomfortable feeling in the lower backs and buttocks
- Weight loss
- Ulcers in the mouth
People affected by chlamydia are very likely to contract this condition, usually within the first month after they got infected by chlamydia. This happens because the immune system will tend to attack healthy tissue instead of the infection.
In a majority of cases, this condition will pass on its own, provided that chlamydia too gets properly treated. But, in some instances, subsequent infections, regardless of their nature might trigger reappearance of reactive arthritis. The main modes of treatment are directed at reducing the severity of symptoms for which they rely on anti-inflammatory medications in a majority of cases.
How to avoid chlamydia complications
It goes without saying that the best and single most reliable way to prevent chlamydia complications is to not get infected by this bacterial STI in the first place. This means that if you are frequently changing sex partners, or have multiple sexual partners, you should always practice safe sex. In addition to this, getting tested regularly is also a very important precaution. If you get tested positive, it is best to commence treatment as soon as possible in order to minimize the chances of any complications.