Sometimes hearing all of these big scary names of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be quite intimidating. I can totally understand why someone would rather look the other way!
This is why I’m going to be breaking down each STI one at a time so later on we can bring them all together and compare them side-by-side.
Let’s start with chlamydia. Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs, especially in young people between the age of 15 and 25.
Almost 80% of women infected with chlamydia have no symptoms or signs at all. That’s a scary thought! But what is most worrying about this infection is that very severe complications that can arise if it is left untreated.
What is this sneaky bug?
This infection is caused by bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis (Yeah, there’s no way to simplify that one hey…). It can affect the cervix, urethra, Fallopian tubes, and the uterus in females. It usually spreads through sexually activity, which includes vaginal, oral and anal sex. This infection can also be passed onto newborn infants during childbirth.
What can put me at risk of getting it?
There are some factors which may increase your risk of acquiring chlamydia, they are similar for other STIs as well. These include having:
- A new sexual partner
- Multiple sexual partners
- Unprotected sex without a condom
- And an infection with another STI
What symptoms can I look out for?
- 80% of females have no symptoms at all! (Sorry!)
- Burning urination
- Yellow vaginal discharge
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding that is not related to your usual menstrual cycle
- Painful sex
- Bleeding after sex
- Rectal pain or bleeding (if engaging in anal sex)
- Lower abdominal pain that progressively gets worse over time.
What sorts of tests will I need to go for?
This is all going to depend on the types of sexual activities you engage in. A swab sample can be taken from the cervix, urethra, rectum or mouth. Another option is to provide a urine sample.
- It is important to have a pregnancy test done, because the treatment may differ.
- A step we often forget is to ask our sexual partners to get tested, otherwise there can be an endless cycle of getting treatment and getting reinfected again (and we don’t want that!).
- And to be thorough, make sure that you have gone for your Pap smear recently. Did you know that having Chlamydia can increase your chance of developing cervical cancer?
How do you treat it?
The type of treatment is going to depend on the severity of the infection. If the infection is uncomplicated, getting a combination of oral antibiotics should be just fine. Fortunately, this is one of the infections that are curable.
The WHO recommends treating uncomplicated chlamydia with a one week course of doxycycline. A single dose of azithromycin is equally effective if there is a concern that you may not be able to finish the whole course – it’s just a little more expensive.
If the infection is more severe and you have developed what we call pelvic inflammatory disease or PID, then it is a good idea for you to receive treatment for gonorrhoea and some other bacteria as well1https://reference.medscape.com/medline/abstract/26042815.
Sometimes the infection can get so severe that abscesses form around the Fallopian tubes. In that case, you will need to be admitted to hospital and given IV antibiotics. The real danger is when these abscesses burst and the infection spreads into the rest of the abdomen. This can be life threatening.
It’s important to note that you will have to abstain from sex for at least 7 days so that the medication can have some time to work. Make sure that you do not have sex until all of your sexual partners have been treated as well.
What happens if I don’t get treatment?
Leaving chlamydia untreated can lead to a whole bunch of complications. PID can cause scarring of the uterus and Fallopian tubes which can lead to chronic pelvic pain, infertility, miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies.
Being infected with chlamydia can also increase your risk of getting HIV (and that’s not something you want to mess around with).
Okay, I’ve taken the medication. Can I stop worrying now?
Yes (mostly). Unfortunately, getting reinfected with chlamydia is incredibly common. This is usually because there is either a new sexual partner in the picture or the current sexual partners weren’t properly treated.
Moral of the story, if you take the medication as directed by your doctor. There is an excellent chance of cure.
If your test comes back positive for chlamydia, make sure that you take the medication as directed by your doctor. Always make sure your sexual partners are treated, and use condoms to minimize the chances of reinfection in the future.
It is very important to keep in mind that if you have one STI, you are at a higher risk of having another one. This makes going for an HIV test a must!
Stay safe out there!