Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the strain of bacteria known as chlamydia trachomatis. This bacterial STI is by far the most common condition of this type in the UK with more than 200.000 new cases being reported to GUM and STI clinics every year. In fact, chlamydia is so widespread that the total number of new cases of this bacterial infection reported annually is roughly equal to number of reported cases of all other STDs combined.
But, in spite of its prevalence, chlamydia can be unexpectedly difficult to identify unless you attend regular STI tests. The reason behind this is the often asymptomatic nature of this condition – many people can struggle with chlamydia for long periods of time without even knowing it. More specifically, as much as 50% of all men affected and staggering 80% of women affected show absolutely no signs of infection, making it exceptionally easy to remain undetected for as long as no symptoms manifest and even when they do, without a proper STI test, it can easily be mistaken for some other condition affecting the genitals and reproductive system.
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Is chlamydia dangerous if no symptoms manifest?
As is mentioned, chlamydia can remain completely asymptomatic for long periods of time, but that doesn’t make it any less of a risk for your health, or any less contagious. In fact, the very name chlamydia is related to an ancient Greek word χλαμύδα which means “cloak”. This choice was made, in part, because this infection has the ability to “hide” in the cells of the host, thus going unnoticed for long periods of time.
The absence of symptoms should never be interpreted as the absence of the illness, especially if it has been diagnosed before (via STI test for example). The asymptomatic cases can cause the same health complications as those cases where symptoms are present early on. If left untreated, as can easily happen with symptomless conditions, chlamydia can be not only passed on to others, but also cause problems with infertility, secondary infections and complications.
This is why taking regular STI tests is very important as it is the only reliable way to find out for certain whether you might be infected. With the early discover, chlamydia can be easily and successfully treated and the infection can be eliminated from the organism before it has the chance to spread or cause any permanent harm.
What are the symptoms of chlamydia in women?
Chlamydia symptoms in women include:
- Painful urination
- Changes in vaginal discharge (changes of consistency or colour)
- Pelvic pain
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Bleeding and pain during or immediately after intercourse
- Bleeding between periods
- More intensive menstrual periods
What are the symptoms of chlamydia in men?
In men, chlamydia symptoms may include:
- Pain in the testicles
- Urethral pain, irritation or burning sensation
- Painful urination
- Appearance of penile discharge
Can chlamydia cause symptoms in other body parts?
It is possible. The exact symptoms one might experience will depend on the nature of transmission but also of the location where the transmission took place. For example, some people can develop chlamydial conjunctivitis if their eyes come into contact with bodily fluids carrying the infection. The symptoms would then include redness of the eyes, as well as irritation, swelling and presence of discharge.
On the other hand, if the transmission occurs through anal sex, the person affected may notice pain, irritation and rectal discharge. Similarly to this, chlamydia transmitted through oral sex can cause chlamydial throat infection. However, this condition is usually asymptomatic.
Mistaking chlamydia for other conditions
A number of STIs, especially those caused by bacterial infections, can produce symptoms very similar to chlamydia, so misidentification of the condition isn’t as rare as one might assume. For instance, gonorrhoea, another bacterial STD which can also be asymptomatic in a noticeable portion of those affected can also cause changes in vaginal discharge, presence of penile discharge, urinary pain or sensations of burning in the urethra.
Another condition that can cause symptoms similar to those of chlamydia is trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted infection that is parasitic in its origin as it is caused by protozoa inhabiting the urinary tract.
These possibilities of misidentification based on symptoms alone further emphasise that there is no alternative to regular STI testing – an underestimated pillar of sexual health.
When will chlamydia symptoms manifest after infection?
The time it will take for chlamydia symptoms to appear following a possible infection can vary significantly among individuals, as mentioned, not appearing at all in some cases. However, in those cases where symptoms do manifest, it will usually take somewhere between one to three weeks following the moment of the transmission before you will notice any kind of changes.
In some other changes, chlamydia can remain seemingly dormant until it triggers further complications which then draw attention to the condition. For example, untreated chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (also known as PID) in women and infections of the testicles in men – both complications can have a significant negative impact on fertility.
How long should I take treatment before symptoms go away?
Those individuals that get positive results for chlamydia on STI test will be prescribed a course of antibiotics – either a one-off dose or a 14-days course, depending on the severity of the condition and suitability of the patient for different types of treatments. Different symptoms will start improving at different times:
- Bleeding between periods will improve before the next period
- Urinary pain and genital discharge should improve within a week from the beginning of the treatment
- Pain or discomfort in the pelvis or testicles should ease some time after treatment, but it may take as long as two weeks before these symptoms completely disappear
Can I get rid of chlamydia without treatment?
It is very difficult if not borderline impossible for the body to get rid of chlamydia without proper treatment. By not doing anything to treat your condition, you are simply increasing the risk of further complications and long-term health issues. If you have reason to believe you were exposed to the infection, it is imperative to get tested as soon as possible and start your treatment immediately following the positive result.