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Chlamydia Information - Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Chlamydia is one of the most common, yet curable sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the United States. It's most common in women and men under age 25. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 3 million people each year become infected with chlamydia. Chlamydia infections cost Americans more than $2 billion per year. Chlamydia, if not treated, can cause serious problems in men, women, and neonates of infected mothers. It's estimated that 20% to 50% of children born to infected women will be infected.

Causes of Chlamydia

Chlamydia infections are caused by a bacterium called Chlamydia trachomatis. They are smaller than rickettsia and bacteria, but larger than viruses. They depend on host cells for replication and are susceptible to antibiotics. Chlamydia are transmitted by direct contact, such as by vaginal and anal sexual intercourse. It can also spread from an infected woman to her fetus during childbirth. They're a common cause of various infections of the urethra, bladder, fallopian tubes, and prostate gland, including:

  • cervicitis - cervical erosion, dyspareunia, mucopurulent discharge, pelvic pain
  • endometritis or salpingitis - pain and tenderness of the lower abdomen, cervix, uterus, and lymph nodes; chills and fever; breakthrough bleeding, bleeding after intercourse, and vaginal discharge; dysuria
  • urethral syndrome - dysuria, pyuria, urinary frequency
  • urethritis - dysuria, erythema, and tenderness of the urethral meatus; urinary frequency; pruritus and urethral discharge (copious and purulent or scant and clear or mucoid)
  • epididymitis - painful scrotal swelling, urethral discharge
  • prostatitis -low back pain; urinary frequency, nocturia, and dysuria; painful ejaculation
  • proctitis-diarrhea, tenesmus,pruritus, bloody or mucopurulent discharge, diffuse or discrete ulceration in the rectosigmoid colon.

Chlamydia Symptoms and Signs

Usually, chlamydia has no symptoms. Up to 85% of women and 40% of men don't develop symptoms. Therefore, many people transmit the disease without even knowing they have a chlamydia infection until it's discovered by laboratory tests.

For those who do have symptoms,clinical expressions of infectious disease vary, depending on the pathogen involved and the organ system affected. Most of the signs and symptoms vary based on host responses. Symptoms may appear as early as 5 to 10 days after infection, but usually appear 1 to 3 weeks after being infected. During the prodromal stage, a person will complain of mild, common, and nonspecific signs and symptoms, such as fever, muscle aches, headache, and lethargy. In the acute stage, more specific signs and symptoms provide evidence of the microbe's target. Infection can also cause an inflamed, itching, or bleeding rectum. If it infects the eye, it may cause redness, itching, and a discharge (also known as pink eye). It may also infect the throat from oral sexual contact with an infected partner.

When women have symptoms, they may experience:

  • abnormal discharge from the vagina
  • bleeding between menstrual cycles
  • vaginal bleeding or pain with sexual intercourse
  • abdominal pain
  • low-grade fever
  • painful urination
  • urinary urgency
  • cervical inflammation
  • mucopurulent cervidtis.

When men have symptoms, they may have:

  • abnormal discharge from the penis
  • pain or burning feeling with urination
  • swollen or tender testicles.

If the infection isn't treated, complications may occur, including:

  • pelvic inflammatory disease in women
  • epididymitis in men
  • Reiter's syndrome, usually in young men
  • sterility in men and women.

In neonates, both the mother and neonate experience symptoms.

Neonates born of infected mothers are born with eye infections or pneumonia. Symptoms usually begin within 4 weeks of birth. Chlamydia is the leading cause of neonatal conjunctivitis, an eye infection that can lead to blindness

Diagnosis and testing information

Diagnosis is confirmed through laboratory tests:

  • A swab from the site of infection (vagina or penis) establishes a diagnosis of urethritis, cervidtis, salpingitis, endometritis, or proctitis.
  • A culture of aspirated material establishes a diagnosis of epididymitis.
  • Antigen-detection methods are the diagnostic tests of choice for identifying chlamydia infection.
  • Polymerase chain reaction test is highly sensitive and specific.
  • Urine tests don't require pelvic examinations or swabbing. Results from the urine tests are usually available within 24 hours.

Chlamydia treatment

Usually, treatments for chlamydia infections include antibiotics, such as azithromycin, doxycycline, or erythromycin.

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Smear tests

A chlamydia test is not routinely carried out when you have a smear test. Many women are under the illusion that it is, and are falsely reassured. If you are unable to get the test at your local practice, get a checkup at your nearest GUM clinic. This is really important if:

  • you are under 25
  • you changed sexual partner recently and developed symptoms a few months later.

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Special considerations or prevention

Encourage the patient to take all of the medication as prescribed, even if her symptoms disappear.

  • Tell the woman that she should have all of her sexual partners past, present, and future tested and treated for chlamydia infections.
  • Make sure your friends have heard about the infection and its consequences. Encourage them to get a checkup if they think they may be at risk.
  • Use condoms and before you stop using them, make sure you and your partner get checked out for STDs by your local GUM clinic or GP.


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